Miami People

Colin Foord and Jared McKay Make Coral Cool

Photo by Karli Evans

Eleven years after forming Coral Morphologic, marine biologist Colin Foord and musician Jared McKay still don't exactly have the words to describe it.

Sitting inside their home/laboratory in Miami, Foord calls the group an "art/science hybrid endeavor" or "an experiment" of what 21st-century science could look like. McKay begins saying he thinks of the duo as a band, and Foord interjects: "We're like a multimedia band in that he's making music; I'm making film," he says. "Coral Morphologic is pretty much entirely informed by the DIY ethos that came out of punk rock... We're trying to do DIY science in the same way that Minor Threat was trying to do DIY music."

Best friends since middle school, Foord and McKay grew up in New Hampshire. In high school, the two played in punk-rock bands and traveled to aquarium stores across New England in pursuit of corals for a tank Foord kept in his bedroom. After graduating in 2000, McKay studied music and creative writing at Colby-Sawyer College, while Foord pursued a marine biology degree at the University of Miami.

Although he was excited to learn more about coral reefs, Foord found that his classmates and professors had no interest in — or knowledge of — how to grow corals in a lab setting.

"My professors and academic advisers were basically looking at me like I was an animal abuser or something, like corals can't be kept alive and they shouldn't be kept in tanks," he says. "It was really just a negative kind of eye-opener, like, 'Oh, shit, my enthusiasm doesn't translate.'"

The experience disillusioned Foord, who decided he didn't want to be a part of the traditional scientific community. After graduating, he managed the indie band ANR in Miami and later worked as a diver for a marine-life collector in the Keys.

Up in New Hampshire, McKay had moved back home after his father was diagnosed with cancer. Foord set up an aquarium for the family, sparking McKay's interest in marine life. "It was like this little alien world in my house," McKay says.

In 2007, Foord persuaded McKay to move to Miami and start Coral Morphologic. The original idea was to build a business selling cloned corals to hobbyists and then use the money to fund an ongoing creative project photographing and filming corals.

More than a decade later, Coral Morphologic is a self-sustaining collaboration embodying the 21st-century vision of its founders. Foord and McKay have made regular appearances at Art Basel since their debut in 2010, when they projected videos of coral onto several Miami Beach buildings that were partially constructed of coral. Last summer, they made a cameo in Arcade Fire's "Signs of Life" music video, and earlier this year, the two teamed up with Animal Collective to produce Tangerine Reef, a psychedelic audiovisual album about corals. An ongoing project involves the study of "super corals" along the MacArthur Causeway that seem stunningly resistant to the warming temperatures and polluted waters of Biscayne Bay.

"[If] you asked 50 different people what Coral Morphologic does, everyone would say something different," McKay says. "[But] if we can get people to be psyched about corals, then that's already winning."

Amara La Negra | Esther Park-Clemetson

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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.