Written by: Stephanie Zhang
Junior Haley Nieh’s love for the ocean surfaced when she participated in a marine biology program in Thailand five years ago. Over the years, she has turned her passion into action. During winter break, she traveled across the world to Australia, where she documented and photographed the underwater Great Barrier Reef. “More people should really go explore the ocean, because I really believe that if they do they will see how beautiful and unique the underwater world is,” Nieh said.
The Great Barrier Reef is composed of 2,900 individual reefs stretching over a distance of 1,615 miles. Due to the climate change in Australia, there has been mass coral bleaching of reefs that can be extremely deadly to the ocean. The main purpose of Nieh’s trip was to raise awareness for the danger that is affecting life under the sea. “I think that it’s always easy to overlook oceans, but when you actually think about it, beneath those waters, there’s a totally different world that is incredibly essential to this one,” Nieh said.
Nieh states that though we do not mean to, our lifestyles on the earth negatively affect life in the ocean. “The ocean has many properties that regulate our natural cycles, and coral reefs produce a lot of oxygen that we breathe,” Nieh said. “Although most of our atmosphere is composed mostly of nitrogen, the oxygen that we do get to breathe mostly comes from the coral reefs as well as the rainforest.”
Previously, Nieh participated in a non-government organization in Thailand that developed a method of reef checking. “In Thailand, I learned how to use many methods that helped me check the conditions of coral reefs and I began to become more aware of what was going on around our environment,” Nieh said.
Nieh’s trip started on Hamilton Island, which is an island off the coast of Sydney, Australia. Then, she took a helicopter to the Great Barrier Reef where she started her research. Nieh’s journey in the water started with snorkeling, through which she was able to observe many organisms. “When I was snorkeling I would shoot some video, then turn it off, have some fun, then go back to shooting whenever I saw something really cool.” Nieh said, “I was always looking out for things that I could research about later.” After, Nieh switched over to scuba diving and was able to record bigger fish and observe organisms living deeper down in the ocean. “Once I went snorkeling, I started seeing the big coral reefs,” she said. “When you’re that deep in the ocean, you get a lot more variability and that’s when the damaged coral starts to appear.”
Nieh has received much encouragement from her friends throughout her journey. “I really admire how independent Haley has been throughout this whole process,” junior Larry Wang said. “I think she’s really committed because she herself tried to raise all the money to fund this project and she has put a lot of hours into her work.” Nieh has started a group on Facebook titled “Haley’s Heavenlies” on which she has also received a lot of support. “When Haley first came to me with her idea of her documentary, I thought that it was a great idea because it’s for a great cause and it’s something that people are really fascinated with,” junior Langsi Wu said.
As for the distribution of her documentary, Nieh plans on starting small and hopes that social networks might spread her message. “I will probably share my video first with the people on the Facebook, and from there just hope that it will travel by the Internet to inform more people about the dangers facing our oceans,” Nieh said. “I just hope that people will be able to see my documentary and realize how beautiful our oceans are and how we can work together to protect and preserve them.”
This summer, Nieh is planning on returning to Thailand to continue her research and the protection of our coral reefs. In the future, Nieh plans on pursuing a carreer in ocean preservation as well as the media arts.