Since February, marine biologist Colin Foord and musician Jared McKay — the coral-loving Miami duo known as Coral Morphologic — have been livestreaming underwater views from a Biscayne Bay reef near PortMiami. Their Coral City Camera now has more than 10,000 followers on Instagram, and at any given time, hundreds of people from around the world tune in to watch the live footage on YouTube.
As the pandemic made social isolation a worldwide reality, the Coral City Camera offered viewers a connection to the outside world — and to each other. Foord says YouTube's live commenting feature has connected people from every corner of the globe, making the underwater livestream a tiny pocket of "the internet at its very best."
"People have talked about how like, 'I was depressed and now I watch this camera, and it's the best part of my day,'" Foord tells New Times. "It's a therapeutic activity for a lot of people."
But the addition of a new cruise dock could put an end to the popular livestream. PortMiami is seeking approval to dredge and develop an area known as Berth 10 located the eastern end of the port, near where the camera is mounted. The expansion would allow Disney Cruise Line to share space with MSC Cruises as a cost-saving measure. (The news was first reported by WLRN last week.)
Foord says he was unaware of the expansion plan until recently, when a fan with knowledge of the proposal got in touch. He says PortMiami has since contacted Coral Morphologic to request the that the camera be relocated.
The Coral City Camera was strategically placed on an artificial reef where the county has previously relocated corals to accommodate a sewer line in Government Cut. Foord says the permit was obtained through Miami-Dade's Department of Environmental Resources Management in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is conducting research at the site.
"Obviously, there was no expectation there was ever going to be an issue with further development," he says.
A spokesperson from PortMiami told New Times on Friday that no one was available to discuss the expansion project.
In recent years, Coral Morphologic's work has focused on so-called super corals that have grown alongside the MacArthur Causeway and seem to thrive in an urban environment. That's true of the corals shown on the Coral City Camera, which Foord says appear more resilient than other corals to changes in water chemistry and fluctuations in temperature.
"From my perspective, they're the most important corals in the entire world, certainly in the entire state of Florida," he says. "There's a lot of very important science that's taking place at this location."
Tere Florin, a spokesperson for the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management, says staff will determine the potential environmental impact from the cruise expansion project after receiving more information from PortMiami.
"Any approvable environmental impacts will be appropriately mitigated and may include the relocation of federally listed corals and other non-listed corals," Florin writes in an email.
Beyond Foord's concerns about the camera, he says he worries what will happen to the corals if they are relocated, or what will happen to the marine animals who make regular appearances on the livestream. Over the past seven months, viewers have come to recognize and name the fish who call the reef home. A tail-less doctorfish has been dubbed Oval, and a yellowtail parrotfish is known as Ramón. Coral Morphologic even created merch paying homage to the popular creatures.
"This is like a real little neighborhood with a whole cast of characters," Foord says.
Foord and his supporters have started reaching out to executives at Disney Cruise Line to educate the company about the potential impact of the cruise-dock expansion. He hopes with some prodding, Disney will rethink its plans.
"The irony is not lost on us that we're up against a company who's made billions of dollars off this idea of Finding Nemo and Finding Dory," he says.
Disney Cruise Line did not respond to a request for comment from New Times on Friday.
Coral Morphologic is now urging its fans to write letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in support of the Coral City Camera. Foord says there's tremendous value for Miami in allowing the livestream to continue.
"I'm not sure a reef has ever been so closely examined anywhere in the world," he says. "That, in and of itself, is such a powerful tool."
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report about the PortMiami expansion is embedded below:
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