Dan Griffin, director of G and G films, and Stanford University professor Steven Palumbi have crafted a visually exquisite, enthralling two-disc DVD set containing over thirty 2- to 4-minute films shot on location in the tropics. These short films provide examples from worldwide coral reef ecosystems of the sustainability of coral reefs, species on coral reefs, and solutions for maintaining the biodiversity and productivity that coral reefs provide. The teacher can select individual videos using menu access, loop videos for repeat viewing, or play the entire DVD.
"Myths can come alive," says Palumbi, crouching on the beach at Macogai Island, a former leper colony 30 miles off the coast of Fiji, cradling a 3-cm clam destined to become a giant, 200- to 300-pound solar-powered clam, a "sumo of clamdom." Worldwide, giant clams are dwindling in number because they aren't capable of repopulating on their own in their coral reef habitats; now they are getting help from clam farms. Photosynthesizing algae that live in the clams' mantles provide the power for the clams' extra growth. When they are large enough to survive on their own, the giant clams are moved from the farms to complete their life cycles and repopulate on the coral reefs.
In "Bringing the Lab to the Reef," marine biology researchers build a "Gilligan's Island"-type laboratory, toting pumps, tubs, and heaters beachside in a climate-change investigation. They break off coral pieces from warm lagoons and normal-temperature waters and glue them to bolts in two different temperature-controlled water tubs, one 2° higher than the control. Two-thirds of the corals in the warmer tub die, providing evidence of the lethal effects of climate change on coral. This pop-up experiment could never be done in a lab, and it highlights the "quick and dirty" nature of field biology.
In "Ground Truthing," the "habitat team," a dynamic group of young scientists, is tasked with matching satellite images to reality by underwater surveying. Digitizing these satellite images can help determine how much of the coast is composed of coral reef. The habitat teams ("big fish team," "little fish team," and "coral team") also chart reef species in order to demonstrate the connectedness among marine populations.
Palumbi, a passionate and engaging star-narrator with a job I covet, is filmed in scuba gear, browsing breathtaking deep seascapes. The coral reef's biodiversity and productivity rival the tropical rainforest's, making it one of the most productive places on the planet. But coral reefs suffer many natural disturbances like mudslides, landslides, and predatory crown-of-thorns starfish. Under normal circumstances, without human intervention, such as the dumping of sediment from construction sites, the corals are resilient and recover. But, like our immune systems in the case of chronic infections, coral reefs' combined stresses create inhospitable places for fish and other reef inhabitants; damaged reefs are ineffective barriers to waves, which can wipe out whole villages. Palumbi's modest proposal to make reef sustainability work: "We could use technology and convert everything to machinery: But technology doesn't know how to grow coral reefs and coral reef fish, how to make O2, how to recycle water or protect the shoreline; technology can't recreate an ecosystem as cheaply and efficiently as an ecosystem." The great irony is that resorts are built to allow people to see beautiful natural resources, but people's practices destroy the resources in the process.
In "Marine Parks," one of the last videos on the DVD, we visit one of the 107 luscious marine managed areas (MMA) in the Bahamas. Setting up and administering these protected areas gives villages the custodianship over their own reef resources. In the 10 years since they have been established, one Bahamian exclaims, the MMA are more beautiful than before.
I recommend the purchase of these inexpensive ($22.95) DVDs by all K–12 school districts and by community colleges and colleges that offer biology education. They provide invaluable instructional material that can be appreciated at various levels, from 4th grade to precollege and beyond. Most elementary school grades have units on animal diversity and conservation, and the DVDs will be appreciated for their information, action, and great beauty. The short length of the videos would recommend them for elementary school science classes, which could combine DVD viewing with a class trip to an aquarium. College marine biology majors could use them as springboards for papers or projects dealing with marine ecosystems. I have used Steve Palumbi's scientific papers in my introductory biology classes to great advantage. The students were completely engaged by his logic and scholarship, even without the gorgeous scenery.
No Dinosaurs in Heaven (DVD, 53 minutes, Jezebel Films)
Filmmaker Greta Schiller completed an M.S. in Science Education to help her to "make sense of the natural world" and understand the "cultural conflict between science and creationism." Her film's highlight: a Grand Canyon rafting trip by members of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), including Eugenie Scott, a physical anthropologist and the NCSE's executive director. The film moves from Colorado to the American Museum of Natural History to Dr. Scott's NCSE lectern, to Intelligent Design lectures, to actual elementary school science classes in New York City.
The Grand Canyon is a totem to creationists and evolutionary scientists alike. It exemplifies what geologists call an "unconformity," which is a gap in the sedimentary rock record. In other words, there was a period in which no sediments were preserved, or when rocks were formed but then eroded away. This gap is used by creationists as evidence of a catastrophic event (the great flood) and to prove that the earth may be 6 to 10 thousand years old rather than the 4.5 billion years established by radiometric dating. Standing at the base of the Grand Canyon, observing time in stacking sediments, a rafter asks, "What if a science education student teaches evolution in a landscape of theories including intelligent design?" This question cuts to the chase of the video.
Scott volunteers that the fledgling teacher should have to grapple with his or her misconceptions when confronted with the compelling evidence for evolution. Scott is filmed watching a pretaped interview with an evolution-denying instructor. When the instructor completely sidesteps the issue of common ancestry, Scott complains that he is missing the "big net of ideas that holds biology together." According to Scott, "[i]t's important to identify to one's students that evolution is not a thing of the past, but is happening all the time"; drug-resistant bacteria are given as an example that species are continually changing.
The same creationist instructor advocates that "we owe it to the kids to teach the controversy." The filmmaker says, "Is there a controversy? Should the flat earth society demand equal time with the teaching of spherical earth?"
Although the DVD spends more time telling rather than showing, the "flood" demonstration is effective and could be repeated in a classroom situation.
Scott demonstrates the possible outcome of a flood. She shakes a can of water and soil from a creek bed and examines the suspended material an hour after sedimentation. When "flood geologists" looked at early, middle, and late "flood" fossils in rock strata from different parts of the canyon, they observed a regular sequence of fossils with single-celled fossils at the bottom, then multicellular fossils and, moving up through the Cambrian explosion, invertebrate and then vertebrate fossils: no reptile, bird or mammal fossils were found in strata where there were only single-celled organisms. Had a flood taken place, the floodwaters would have scoured all the sediment of the planet and suspended it in the water. All the fossil types would have been found in the top layer after the water receded, as can be seen in Dr. Scott's demo. The flood theory is shown to be inconsistent with the actual data.
Students at the Museum of Natural History are filmed giving reasons for the small size of human rib cages compared with our Homo ancestors', using evolutionary terminology, linking their observations and theories to the evidence. We and the filmmaker are eavesdropping on an organizing principle taking form in young people's minds – a.k.a., the scientific method. And we, as science teachers, as the DVD powerfully demonstrates, are responsible for planting the seed.
This DVD is recommended for college science teacher certification classes and graduate science education programs. It can also be used for research reports for high school seniors interested in either the teaching of evolution or how public educational policy may be influenced by special interest groups.