On June 21, we had a conversation with Lorenzo Mittiga, winner of the Climate in Action Category of the 2022 Earth.Org Photography Competition. We spoke about the importance of protecting coral reefs but also the power of photography in raising awareness of the devastating impacts of humans on the environment. 

Lorenzo Mittiga is an Italian award-winning underwater conservation photographer based in Bonaire, an island in the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. Passionate about the underwater world and committed to environmental causes, he won the Climate in Action Category of our 2022 Photography Competition with a powerful image depicting the incredible efforts of scientific divers involved in a restoration project to rescue dying corals in the proximity of Bonaire. 

protecting coral reefs

Climate Action Category Winning Photo by Lorenzo Mittiga.

Mittiga shared his thoughts with us on several topics, including: 

The photo was taken in 2021 during the ReeFiesta in Bonaire, an event that aims to bring diverse and ocean conservation-minded individuals together to promote coral reef restoration and ocean conservation. Since 2012, the Reef Renewal Foundation Bonaire has been dedicated to restoring coral reefs in the area through innovative coral nurseries and highly successful restoration techniques, such as coral propagation by fragmentation. “Scientific divers harvest coral fragments in artificial coral trees known as nurseries” – explained Mittiga. “Within four to six months, these fragments are grown enough to be collected and outplanted back to the reef”. 

Protecting Coral Reefs

Lorenzo Mittiga.

When asked about his duty as a conservationist photographer, Mittiga explained that his work goes far beyond aesthetic ideals. A camera is an extremely powerful tool and, in our modern society, a simple picture can influence millions of people and raise awareness on key issues such as the climate crisis. “We always say that through the eyes we can reach the soul of people, so through good pictures, we can send powerful messages.”, said the photographer.

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The Importance of Protecting Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are among the most valuable ecosystems on the planet. Besides containing one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth, coral reefs protect coastlines from the damaging effects of wave action and tropical storms. They are also a source of nitrogen and other nutrients for marine food chains and play a crucial role in nitrogen and carbon fixing. Lastly, they play an important role in generating the sand and rubble that maintain islands and cays. 

Unfortunately, coral reefs around the world are facing events of severe bleaching and physical destruction due to human actions such as coastal development, unmanaged tourism, anchoring, fish feeding, marine litter, and diver contact. These systems have also been hit hard by the effects of climate change. Indeed, warming oceans cause thermal stress that contributes to bleaching and infectious disease, while sea level rise may lead to increases in sedimentation for reefs located near land-based sources of sediment. Sedimentation runoff can lead to the smothering of corals.

The global scale of coral bleaching has tripled since 40 years ago and severe bleaching currently occurs in over 30% of coral reefs globally compared to less than 10% in the 1980s. Their resilience depends almost exclusively on effective management. To keep up with this widespread bleaching, conservationists engage in a variety of strategies to improve the resilience of coral reefs, such as the use of artificial nurseries as depicted in Mittiga’s photo.  

You can check out the full-length video of Earth.Org’s Conversation with Lorenzo Mittiga here:

Our competition for 2023 has already kicked off! Make sure to follow us on social media for updates. If you would like to become a part of our global movement and mission, consider becoming an EO photographer. Earth.Org’s official photographers and their content will be regularly featured in our articles and our Instagram and Facebook posts. There is no financial commitment. When we post one of your photographs, we will inform you and ask you to repost the article or post on your Instagram story.

Featured Image by Lorenzo Mittiga

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