You might know it as an audio-visual project or as the leading creator of innovative underwater media that chronicles imperiled coral reefs. And in both cases, you'd be right. Coral Morphologic continues to take strides in innovating ways to educate others on coral reefs in ways that positively impact the environment — case in point: its latest collaboration, a foray into fashion with sustainable swimwear designer Natasha Tonić.
This isn't the first time Coral Morphologic has dipped its toes in the fashion waters. It previously collaborated with Volcom and local brand Waterlust — both are conscientious companies that use synthetic materials recycled from plastic bottles. However, for marine biologist Colin Foord and musician J.D. McKay — the pair behind Coral Morphologic — it became apparent that tiny fibers from synthetic materials, even recycled ones, result in microplastic pollution.
Just before launching Coral Morphologic with McKay in October 2007, Foord did an eight-month internship in Bali, Indonesia, where he wrote a coral-gardening handbook for Indonesian fisherfolk — and then met Vincent Chalias. He learned that in Indonesia, reefs had been heavily degraded by decades of dynamite fishing. The blasts shattered corals, reducing them to a rubble-scape and making them unable to attach securely.
Cue Ocean Gardener.
The nonprofit organization has pioneered a technique that grows corals on organic cotton ropes. Once a rope is fully colonized, they take them to a restoration site where they use wooden stakes to secure the ropes to the seafloor. That allows the corals on the ropes to reattach back to the reef, stabilizing it for subsequent species to be restored. By the time the ropes and stakes biodegrade, the corals have secured themselves safely on their own.
"Vincent has now been growing corals in Indonesia for over two decades, and in that time has created one of the most biodiverse collections of corals of any nonprofit reef restoration organization globally," Foord explains. "Hundreds of species of corals in multiple habitats and locations."
With Coral Morphologic's "Coral City" capsule collaboration with Tonić, Foord and McKay are working to support Ocean Gardener's mission.
"Natasha Tonić has emerged as a leader pushing sustainability in the swimwear space since 2017 by eliminating synthetic fabrics and instead using organic hemp and cotton materials, which are naturally biodegradable," Foord explains. "We hope to continue to support Ocean Gardener as they are really walking the walk when it comes to coral restoration."
"We were inspired by the Toms Shoes model to create a buy-one, plant-one arrangement, where for every swimsuit sold, a coral will be planted back to the reef," he adds. "So much of the swimwear lifestyle involves traveling to paradisiacal tropical locations, something that costs money and produces a large carbon footprint to get those FOMO-inducing pics for social media. But without healthy water and coral reefs, these locations are no longer places people will want to pose for pictures."
The purchase of a "Coral City" swimwear piece will help plant one coral on the reef in Bali with Ocean Gardener. The three coral photos in the collection were chosen because they are classical coral forms, brain, interlocking, and flowery soft coral patterns that represent the archetypal diversity of the reef.
"These are the corals that we think visually define what a coral is to humans," Foord says.
As for Coral Morphologic's future in fashion, the pair have plans to continue dipping their toes in those waters. Foord and McKay hope to continue building awareness and appreciation for corals outside the world of academic science, diving, and aquarists.
"Using art and fashion is a great way to reach pop culture and the general public," Foord says. "Just as mid-century leopard and zebra print fashions never really went out of style in a place like Miami, we see corals serving the animal prints for the 21st century, owing to their naturally fluorescent colors and geometric textures. Nature is wild, and people like to express themselves as such. Fashionable people are some of the most influential in our modern, social media-obsessed society, so if we want to save the world, we need to engage with them to spread the message."
The "Coral City" collection is available for purchase at natashatonic.com.