[Coral-List] city analogy for coral reefs: see "City of Coral" on NOVA, March 1983

Les Kaufman lesk at bu.edu
Fri Nov 27 12:51:37 EST 2009

Hi everybody.

I haven't been following this thread closely, but I did "coin" this  
phrase with Neil Goodwin for the 1983 Nova film of that title ("City  
of Coral").  I put "coin" in quotes because these phrases sort of  
float around and who knows who really thinks them up first.  I do  
know I was inspired by the classic 1960 book by Marston Bates, "The  
Forest and the Sea" though I don't remember if he actually used the  
city analogy.   I wouldn't be surprised if you find it's lying around  
in Darwin's musings, either.  It is an obvious analogy.

Oh, by the way, I also invented the Internet.

We made "City of Coral" for NOVA, and it first aired on PBS (WGBH  
Television) on March 8, 1983.  This is how WGBH blurbs it:

"City of Coral
NOVA takes a spellbinding voyage through one of the world's most  
fascinating and colorful ecosystems: a coral reef, where the line  
between plants and animals is blurred, "rocks" move, eat and fight,  
fish farm, and weak animals borrow the shields and weapons of  
stronger ones."

You can still get a copy from WGBH I think.  I have an old 3/4"  
videotape but it's scratchy, and there's nowhere around here to play  
it.  Nobody even recognizes what the square box with the tape wound  
up in it even is any more.  And the show was created on 16mm  
film...remember that?

We shot the film mostly in Teague Bay and Buck Island National  
Monument, St. Croix.  I shot additional footage at Discovery Bay  
Marine Laboratory, Rio Bueno, and Ocho Rios, Jamaica.    Neil Goodwin  
produced and directed in collaboration with John Borden, I wrote,  
handled field logistics, wrangled crabs and corals, and shot a bit of  

The footage is of some historical ecology value as the reefs were in  
better shape than now, though the film was made after the initial  
decline of Caribbean reefs had begun (Hurricane Allen, Diadema  
plague, I think the first white band, etc.).

I am also pretty sure that "City of Coral" contains the first footage  
of a predator engulfing a puffer and thinking better of it when the  
puffer inflates explosively in its mouth.  I can tell you there was a  
fish tank and an algae scraper involved so you'll have to decide for  
yourself it was too Disney to count.  Howard and Michelle Hall did  
something slicker with a swellshark and an angel shark in California  
for one of their early Omni films.


Les Kaufman
Professor of Biology
Boston University Marine Program
Senior PI
Marine Management Area Science
Conservation International

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