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Silent Sentinels

Was the unprecedented mass coral bleaching in 1998 proof of global warming?

A printer-friendly version of this page 57 minutes
Directed by Richard Smith
Produced by Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Science Unit

Coral reefs are the jewels of the ocean. Communities of organisms as rich and diverse as any above or below the surface of the planet, they encircle the tropics like an azure necklace.

1998 was designated 'International Year of the Oceans'. It turned out to be the year that coral reefs around the world began to die. Unprecedented mass bleaching swept the world's tropical oceans, in places leaving hundreds of miles of coral coastline - the fringes of entire countries in places - severely damaged. Following a number of similar but lesser events since the 1980s, this latest bleaching event is being touted as unequivocal proof that global warming has begun, and that it will have a greater impact than many think.

This program reveals disturbing evidence that even if coral can survive continually rising temperatures, they won't be able to escape the chemical effects of high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Experiments in Arizona's Biosphere II show that as the ocean is becoming more acidic, corals will grow more slowly and with weaker skeletons.

SILENT SENTINELS examines these claims and takes a step back to take a broader look at the coral organism and how it has coped with climate change over time. How coral both defines its environment and is created by it. It is a story of a polyp and a plant - one of the most successful biological relationships in the history of the earth.

SILENT SENTINELS was filmed in three oceans, on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and remote Scott Reef in the Indian Ocean, in the Maldives, the Red Sea, the USA and the Caribbean.

SPECIAL OFFER: SILENT SENTINELS was produced with a companion film called The Perils of Plectropomus, which details the life and death struggles of fish on a coral reef today. You save $105 or 21% if you buy both films together. To do so, please order under Special Offers.

Grade Level: 7-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2000     Copyright Date: 1999
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-511-3     VHS ISBN: 1-56029-814-6

"This is the most important movie on global warming to date...Has a much stronger impact than any written report."
Rafe Pomerance, key US global warming negotiator, former Deputy Asst. Secretary of State for Environment and Development

"Drawing connections between the biological processes of life and death in the reef ecosystem with climate patterns, the viewer directly experiences the evidence that has convinced the scientific community that global warming is having significant impacts on coral reefs...Silent Sentinels combines the dire predictions of the future with strategies for staving off massive disaster, making it an important film for anyone concerned with the marine environment."
Stuart Sandin, Coral Reef Ecologist, Princeton University

"A comprehensive introduction to this subject that is both understandable to the layman and sufficiently penetrating to interest the professional."
Steve Coles, Bishop Museum, Honolulu

"Excellent program...Highly recommended for earth science and ecology classes."

"Excellent...make(s) a compelling case that action is urgently needed to respond to global change, above all climate change...I strongly believe we will only have governments act when their citizenry is well enough informed and pressing for action...A significant contribution. It is important (it) be widely viewed."
Gordon Smith, Director of the Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

"An essential film for scientists and students of all grade levels who want to understand the critical impacts global warming is having of one of the earth's most biologically diverse, climatically sensitive ecosystems...Watching this film will put to rest any disagreement that rising global temperatures are killing tropical coral reefs."
James M. Cervino, Marine Biologist, University of South Carolina

"Science is one of the few human endeavors that still depends primarily on the printed word for reporting...The power of near-real-time satellite data to produce testable predictions of the location and intensity of coral bleaching is particularly well presented with computer graphic 'movies' of evolving hotspots. The message simply could not be as well presented in any other medium...In summary, the quality of the science presented in Silent Sentinels approximates that of the work done by the scientists it features: i.e. a very high standard."
Bruce G. Hatcher, Dept. of Biology, Dalhousie University

"There are literally dozens of videos available that relate to coral reefs, but Silent Sentinels...belongs in every school, college and public library. It is an excellent educational film...and it is very highly recommended."
Barbara Butler, Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, MC Journal

"This is an outstanding film."
David M. Anderson, Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado

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Silent Sentinels

"This is the most important movie on global warming to date." Rafe Pomerance, key US global warming negotiator, former Deputy Asst. Secretary of State for Environment

Study guide

Awards and Festivals
Gold UNESCO Award, The New York Festivals
Best Environmental Film, Telescience, Canada
Best Nature Film, Ökomedia, Germany
Best Documentary, Ekofilm, Czech Republic
Best Foreign Film, Prix Leonardo, Italy
Honorable Mention, Columbus International Film & Video Festival
Finalist, Earth Vision, Japan
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
Semi-Finalist, Animal Behavior Society Film Festival
Semi-Finalist, Merit Awards for Conservation Message & Educational Value, International Wildlife Film Festival
Vermont International Film Festival
Cornell Environmental Film Festival
Amazing Earthfest, Kanab UT

Climate Change/Global Warming
Earth Science
Life Science
Marine Biology
Oceans and Coasts

Related Titles

Rising Waters
Shows that global warming is already hurting the Pacific Islands.

The Perils of Plectropomus
The life and death struggles of fish on a coral reef today.

Weather Report
A report from the front lines of climate change in Kenya, India, Canada, the Arctic, China, and Montana where people's lives have already been dramatically altered.

Turning Down The Heat
Renewable energy sources and energy conservation are the solution to global warming.

Everything's Cool
Examines the media strategies, on both sides, that have resulted in the US government's failure to take decisive action on global warming.

Baked Alaska
Looks at the battle over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in the context of Alaska's accelerated warming.

Cheat Neutral
Satirical look at the inadequacies of the concept of carbon offsetting.

The Harriman Alaska Expedition Retraced
Two scientific expeditions to Alaska, 100 years apart, give us an unparalleled view of environmental damage and the change in society's attitudes.

A portrait of James Lovelock, originator of the theory that the earth is a self-regulating system maintaining the conditions that allow its perpetuation.

Big Spuds, Little Spuds
The impact of climate change and monoculture on one of the world's staple food crops.

... more Reviews

"Perhaps the greatest 'wakeup call' environment film I've ever seen."
Ceferina G. Hess, Political Science, Lander University

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