Helping Planet Ocean

PUBLISHED: 11:24 26 March 2009 | UPDATED: 15:53 20 February 2013

Doctorpus with one of his crustacean advisors

Doctorpus with one of his crustacean advisors

Plymouth schoolchildren produce a film to raise awareness about the impact of ocean acidification.

When students at Ridgeway School in Plymouth were approached by leading ocean acidification expert Dr Carol Turley to make a film to show to politicians and policy makers across the globe, they jumped at the chance, and last month their short film was premiered at the Royal Institution in London.

Carol, who works at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, has been studying the phenomenon of ocean acidification for some years and is one of the world's leading experts in the subject, which she refers to as 'The Other CO2 Problem'.

"Most people have heard of climate change," she explains, "and the fact that increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have been pumped into the atmosphere. Normally the vast areas of ocean would mop up the CO2 produced naturally, absorbing it into the sea and having no effect. Only now are we realising that the seemingly infinite capacity of the sea has been swamped and the oceans can no longer carry on business as usual."

The chemistry is relatively simple: add carbon dioxide to water and you get carbonic acid, and now our oceanic waters are becoming more acidic.

Many marine animals such as snails and corals use calcium carbonate to make shells, while fish need it to grow skeletons. Acidity and calcium carbonate do not go together. Even the tiniest plants and animals floating on the surface of the sea are affected. Plankton suspended at the sea surface is a rich soup of microscopic plants and animals, fish eggs and larvae. It provides the base of the food chain. Mess with this and the whole ocean is in trouble.

Carol explains this problem to people in power across the world, and she figured she needed a way of grabbing their attention, so the idea of the short film came about.

The film, which was made in a week, was a team effort by the students and teachers of Ridgeway School, the Creative Arts and Technology department at University College Plymouth, and film-makers Kayla Parker and Stuart Moore of Sundog Media.

"With a tight deadline, a complex subject and ages ranging between 11 and 15, the students had to work as a team," explained Stuart. "They were central to all stages of the making. We helped with the technical back-up and advice, but it is very much their film."

We combined low-tech clay modelling to form the stars of the film and computer-based animation to bring them to life," said Kayla. "The students were able to watch the film develop before their eyes. The process was like watching thought happen as the students collaborated, evolved the story, created the models and captured it through animation."

Student Merryn Hunt, 15, felt shocked he hadn't heard of the issue before. "We had heard of climate change, but now there are two threats and we have a chance to make a difference. I've told friends and family, and everyone is shocked. We can help through simple things like turning off a light. It all adds up."

Fellow film-maker Ruth Blake-Lobb felt she had learned a lot through the project.

"We learned to work together, as well as new skills such as animation, film-making, storyboarding and script writing, and that science can be really fun and important. This film is important and it's got a real message. And it's in our language for our age group. It makes me proud to know that someone like a Prime Minister might see it. It would be great if Barack Obama gets to see it."

Ridgeway School teacher Karen Findlay is certain the film will make an impact. "I was amazed at how they got into making the film," she said. "They were driven by their own shock at the prospect of the seas turning more acidic. This is their film. They took charge."

The synopsis of the film is as follows: King Poseidon's team of advisors, Doctorpus, Britney Star and Squid Marley, report to the king about how acidification is affecting his ocean world and his subjects. The film ends with a plea from Poseidon to the humans on land to stop producing the carbon dioxide that is slowly but surely killing Planet Ocean.

The first showing at the Royal Institution in London will be followed by a string of international conferences between politicians and some of the world's top scientists. Dr Carol Turly says she is convinced that this message, coming from a younger generation in their own words and expressed through their own creativity, will have a great impact upon those who are making the decisions about the future of the planet.

"I want these people - people that make decisions - to realise that the upcoming generation is concerned. They have made it clear through this short film that they want something done. 2009 is important for new climate-change negotiations and this little film is crucial in bringing 'The Other CO2 Problem' to the forefront of the minds of policy makers." KELVIN BOOT

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