Deep Seads (2019) by Hula

Photograph of American artist Sean Yoro, also known as Hula. Inspired by his childhood in Hawai’i, Yoro has created numerous underwater murals emphasizing the beauty of nature, including his 2019 piece Deep Seads (from Kapu Collective, 2023).

  • Deep Seads is a three-piece installation project (images below) by American artist Sean Yoro, known professionally as Hula. Yoro installed the pieces in shallow waters along the coast of the island of O’ahu, Hawai’i. Each installation is an artificial reef made of concrete, steel, and eco-friendly paint. 
  • Like many of Yoro’s other works, Deep Seads was not created as a permanent artwork. Yoro specializes in natural murals, made in unconventional locations. He has also produced portraits on melting icebergs, charred tree bark, and walls near rising waterways. Many of Yoro’s artworks call attention to human-caused environmental issues. The temporary nature of the murals emphasizes the fragility of our planet under the rapid effects of anthropogenic environmental destruction.
  • Deep Seads, specifically, raises awareness for dying coral reefs. The three murals, “Lumens,” “Breath,” and “Buried” each demonstrate how human activity is putting marine life at risk. Yoro was born and raised in Hawai’i and is an avid surfer and diver. With his love of the ocean, Yoro was especially concerned about the effects of global warming on coral reefs. As artificial reefs, the pieces of Deep Seads foster marine life by providing space for new corals to grow.

Photograph of “Lumens,” a mural of a person embracing a jellyfish, representing the fragile beauty of marine life in the wake of global warming (from Prisco, 2019).

Photograph of “Breath,” depicting a person exhaling, illustrating the practice of freediving. All three pieces of Deep Seads were created underwater. Yoro spent months training to dive, allowing him to work on the murals underwater for minutes at a time (from Prisco, 2019).

Photograph of “Buried,” portraying a half-buried face, with only an eye remaining. This mural highlights the short-lived nature of his art and how vulnerable reefs are in the current state of the oceans (from Prisco, 2019).

How is this related to climate?

  • Climate change is killing coral reefs across the world. Corals are temperature-sensitive organisms that do not respond well to abrupt changes in climate. Colorful algae called zooxanthellae live within corals, providing them with energy, oxygen, and waste removal. However, under warm conditions, corals eject their zooxanthellae as a stress reaction. Without algae, corals turn white, also known as bleaching (image below), leaving corals vulnerable to diseases and less able to reproduce. If bleaching is severe enough, corals can die.

Diagram describing the process of coral bleaching (from Frostenson, 2017).

  • Since the 1980s, ocean temperatures have risen at an alarming rate. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), between 2014 and 2017, over three-fourths of the world’s coral reefs exhibited some amount of bleaching. Scientists predict that by 2030, 90% of reefs will be threatened by coral bleaching.
    • In 2016, major coral bleaching struck the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. El Niño, a climate phenomenon characterized by elevated temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, contributed to this event. Along the northeastern coast of Australia, about 95% of the corals examined were severely affected.
    • In 2019, a massive coral bleaching event occurred in the Hawaiian Islands (image below). While water temperature was not as high as in the previous events in 2014 and 2015, the reefs were still recovering from earlier bleaching, leaving them more vulnerable to disease and colonization by leafy algae (image below).

Aerial photograph of a coral reef in Kāne’ohe Bay, off the coast of the island O’ahu in Hawai’i. In 2014, 2015, and 2019, Hawai’i experienced mass bleaching events that left bleached corals (in white) vulnerable to disease and colonization by leafy algae (green color) (from NOAA, 2019).

Further exploration

  • Various efforts are being made to restore coral reefs and increase their resilience to rising ocean temperatures. While this doesn’t get at the root of the problem, these strategies can protect coral reefs if warming is limited.
    • NOAA has an established coral restoration program focused on transplanting nursery-raised corals to reefs in targeted areas. This included 20 active nurseries scattered throughout the Caribbean that have successfully restored 40,000 corals annually.
    • The Australian government established the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP) in 2020. To slow coral bleaching, the organization has accelerated several coral’s adaptive ability to withstand heat stress for longer periods of time. They have also developed devices that make mass coral planting easier and more effective.

Photograph of researchers at the National Sea Simulator, part of the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Staff are making progress in developing more effective methods of restoring coral reefs on a larger scale (from Hardisty et al., 2022).

References and additional resources