ProjectAr take 01: out of our seats and into the streets

Illustration credit: Diogo Matias

Richard Vevers, a toilet paper salesman, decides that he’s had enough. He packs his bags and travels across the world to Australia, where he reinvents himself as an underwater photographer. All is well in the beginning, but before long, he starts realizing that something is not quite right. On each diving expedition, he comes across fewer and fewer of his favorite marine animals, and the vibrant colors of the corals seem to be fading away, leaving behind bright, white rocks. Vevers’ story and the deeper issue it reflects — climate change — were the focus of an event organized by the newly formed “ProjectAr | Watch-Talk-Act” initiative last month. 

This initiative, which sprung out of the outreach event-series, Ar | Respire Connosco, aims to raise awareness for emerging societal issues while backing them up with science. In our first event, which happened during “Global Climate Change week”, we organized a free, public screening of the documentary Chasing Coral. The film was followed by two short presentations by marine biologists, and an open discussion among all participants. 


The doors of the Auditorium opened at 21:00 on September 26th, with João Cruz setting the stage with a stand-up comedy act. João reviewed the main climate problems and made the public laugh (and think!) about them. At one moment, he even told the audience that he was delighted about the rising sea levels because at least this way, his apartment will gain an ocean view.

Chasing Coral at the CCU Auditorium. Photo credit: Francisco Romero.

Once João finished his act, about 300 people watched the documentary with rapt attention. The film tells the story of a team of divers, photographers and scientists, headed by Vevers, as they struggle to capture the phenomenon of coral bleaching. The team reasoned that the best way to get this problem widely known is to make the oceans more accessible. That is why they decided to try and map the sea-floor, just like Google maps the surface of the Earth. 

The film ends with divers from Argentina, Japan, and many other countries, echoing the same message: coral bleaching is happening across the globe. Raising awareness about the problem is certainly one of the first steps towards a solution. That is the reason some of the main cast members developed “undersea goggles”, an educational tool that exposes school children to this unknown, underwater world. 


Pedro Frade, a Portuguese marine biologist currently researching coral reefs at the Great Barrier Reef, shared his experience in Australia, where he has been witnessing the bleaching himself. Frade talked about how Australia has been suffering from drought, floods, fires and coral bleaching, all due to climate change. He also met the documentary makers and described the difficulties and frustration they had gone through. What struck him, as well as some of the event attendees, was the fact that John Veron, the godfather of corals, refused to join the rest of the documentary team for a second dive at the reef. Veron has been diving in the Great Barrier Reef since a young age and could not stand to witness such a tragedy happening right in front of his eyes.

Open discussion. Photo credit: Laura Ward.

The open discussion began with Miguel Leal, another marine biologist, who joined the stage with the host and moderator Catarina Pimentel, a biologist working as a lab manager at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. Leal talked about super corals and how this superspecies can give a glimmer of hope for the world’s dying reefs. The audience was curious to learn about super corals and how they have survived in the Hawaiian coast despite living in warm and acidic water. Several other important topics were raised, from a need to add educators and policymakers to the equation, to consumerism and individual responsibility. Questions like “What can we do as individuals?”, “How can we reduce our footprint on the environment?” and “How can the population affect the political decisions on this issue?” were raised by the participants. While there may be no single answer to these complicated issues, the resulting discussion and suggestions both from the participants and speakers hopefully offered food for thought for all involved. 


The event ended with a call to arms– to attend the Greve Climatica at Cais do Sodre happening the next day, Friday, October 27th. It became clear that the awareness raised during the event didn’t stay inside the auditorium walls, as many familiar faces were seen at the march. 

Lisbon Climate March. Photo credit: Guido Meijer

During the last week of September 2019, a series of international strikes and protests happened in 4,500 locations across 150 countries, to protest and demand action to counter climate change. The march was part of a school strike started in Sweden by the activist Greta Thunberg. It inspired around 7.6 million people that participated in such initiatives in the past year alone. 

Hopefully, the event organized by the “Watch-Talk-Act” initiative contributed in some small way to this global movement and will continue to influence the way everyone involved perceive the impact of climate change.

Eleni Smaragdi (left) is a neuroscientist. She enjoys solving problems, communicating research and  exploring new places. Daniela Domingues (right) is a neuroscientist at the Learning Lab at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. She is fond of jazz music, travelling and chatting about science over a beer.

Editor: Liad Hollender, CR SciCom Office.

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