2016, Middle School, Prose
There was a missing semicolon somewhere.
Lines and lines of parameters, functions, and braces oozed across Liv’s laptop—all to make a 2-D sun rise and set against the pixels of the screen. Scavenging her code, Liv jabbed at the keyboard, discovering the absent semicolon, but her project was still off . . . .
Thin ribbons of pinkish light drifted through the bedroom window, reflecting off Liv’s Macintosh screen. Sighing, Liv turned to face the glass panes. A skinny coral line was streaked across the navy sky. Looking at the real sun gave Liv an idea for her code—
Would it work if she filled her computer-sun with a crimson hue, then gradually lessened the amount of red? The sun always appeared whiter during midday.
Liv tweaked her code and watched it once through. Perfect. She leapt off her chair and ransacked her drawers, digging around for her newest bathing suit.
Liv Faida was definitely not one for taking safety precautions. She was one, however, for board shorts, salty hair, and the tides of Piha—especially this very dawn. The water was smooth as glass, the sun reflecting off a million pink crystals. Liv’s eyes sparkled under the strawberry-lemonade sun, too, as she inhaled the chilly yet tropical New Zealand air. She was nearly ready to dive beneath the glassy surface of the waves when—
“Liv! Forgetting something?”
Liv swiveled around, confirming her suspicions. “It’s seven A.M. and freezing cold.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Kyle quipped. “Unless you want melanoma, you’ll put on sunscreen.”
Liv heeded her older brother and sprinted toward him, a trail of sandy footprints left behind. She reached for the sunscreen and reluctantly slathered some over her arms. She gave the bottle a second squeeze, but sunscreen splattered everywhere, and massive gobs seeped into the sand.
Kyle snickered. “S’okay. The waves will wash over it later.”
The thrashing, murky water had transitioned into an opal pool over the past several weeks of my extensive journey from the New Zealand bay to the Great Barrier Reef. The trip was almost over, but my final task remained, just a few feet ahead. It was close to midnight, so I was invisible to the sickeningly happy sea creatures floating about. Slimy dolphins. Garish schools of fish.
But worst of all were the corals. They were like these…lurid, deformed forks sticking out of the sea floor. And I, a glob of sunscreen floating in the ocean, had finally reached their reef.
Corals are built by polyps, which are ridiculously named living creatures related to animals like jellyfish. Not only do they construct the coral, but they also cover every inch of it. They have tentacles that stretch out of the coral, which lead to a small chamber inside the polyp.
I reached a swirling, ghostly finger out toward a nearby polyp. Inside each one, there’s a single-celled alga known as zooxanthella (that’s zoh-uh-zan-thel-uh). Since polyps are animals and zooxanthellae are plant-like, they depend on each other for oxygen and carbon dioxide (Coral Reef Symbiosis). The thing is, each zooxanthella contains a dormant virus (Than).
Dormant . . . unless something can activate it . . . .
I smothered myself across a zooxanthella. Gradually, the virus in it began to replicate. First it was one measly, insignificant virus. And then another one, almost exactly the same, appeared. And again, and again, and again, until the viruses were swelling in the zooxanthella. They kept replicating for days, and eventually the zooxanthella was expanding, too, until—
The zooxanthella was gone. Well, not really gone. It had exploded, and was oozing out, into the ocean, its contents—the viruses.
But now, these viruses could infect other corals.
“But why don’t they have color?”
Liv Faida was bemusedly examining a coral reef that didn’t look like a coral reef. There was no sunrise orange or apple green or cherry blossom pink. It was just white. Bone white. It was startling and almost looked as if the hands of vampires were stretching out of the ocean floor.
“Well, um, they’ve been bleached,” stuttered the Australian tour guide in reply. He had dark skin and vibrantly white teeth, but they still had more color than the corals. “I’m sure they will have their color back tomorrow. Now, this beach is infamous for the very special way it appears during—”
“Bleached by what?”
The tour guide’s tan cheeks became tinted red, like burning wood. “Well, sometimes sunscreen in the ocean will kill a certain type of algae that gives the coral its color. But, anyway, as I was saying—”
“What’s the algae cal—?”
But the tour guide turned away, continuing to rave about popular features of the Great Barrier Reef.
Liv turned toward the sunscreen-poisoned corals, then back to other listeners of the tour. Did anybody even care about this ocean’s inhabitants? The Aussie tour guide clearly did not.
Liv clenched her teeth. This was not the same Great Barrier Reef displayed on the gas station pamphlets. This was not the same Great Barrier Reef spattered across the internet. This was not the same Great Barrier Reef everyone dreamed of visiting. Kyle nudged Liv.
“Will you chill out, please?” he muttered. “It’s not a big deal.”
Liv must have looked pretty fired up. She blushed. Maybe she was overreacting. Maybe these corals would have their color back tomorrow, like the tour guide said. But…why did Kyle have to be right? What did he know that she didn’t? How did he know it didn’t really matter?
“What do you mean it’s not a big deal?” She didn’t expect herself to sound so angry and defensive, but a part of her liked it. “What if all of our oceans start looking this way?”
Liv thought she saw Kyle’s face snap into a look of surprise for a millisecond, but then it twisted back to his usual confident expression. But today it almost looked cocky.
“Quit overreacting. What are you gonna do? What can you do? Ban sunscreen?”
“I mean, no,” Liv stuttered. “It’s just—”
“It’s a band of corals that don’t have color anymore. So what? We need sunscreen to protect our skin.”
Liv’s voice died out. She didn’t have a retort, and their argument had attracted the attention of many bystanders. She looked back at the Aussie tour guide and pretended to be listening. At the end of the session, Liv trudged back to her family’s rented car. Her mind was solely focused on one question, but she was completely stumped.
What could she do?
It was a Friday night, a month after Liv’s trip to Australia. Liv was sitting in front of her Mac, coding again. But today, she was doing something more important than producing a sunrise.
Liv had done extensive research on sunscreen and its effect on corals. The “certain type of algae” the Aussie tour guide had mentioned was called zooxanthellae. And it did matter. The algae provided oxygen and color for the corals. Without it, the corals were seriously affected.
In fact, about 10% of all corals were impacted by sunscreen in Earth’s oceans. There only needed to be a small amount of the substance to completely bleach corals and activate the viruses (Than). Already, between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen washed off into the Earth’s oceans each year (Coral Reef Safe).
So no, today Liv was not animating a circle. Today, Liv was utilizing a month of research and years of coding practice. She was launching her own app. Her app could scan the ingredient lists on sunscreens for substances that were harmful to corals. These included oxybenzone, butylparaben, octinoxate, and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (Coral Reef Safe). If there was something destructive, the app would alert the user.
Liv was very proud of her creation. She had dedicated herself to this cause, and now others would know about it too. She held out a wavering hand above her mouse. This was it.
Liv had proved her brother wrong. She could do something to save Earth’s oceans. Even if it was a small step. Every big change starts with just one person, one person who has fresh ideas about the world.
Her finger stopped hovering. She hit “Submit”.
By writing from the sunscreen’s point of view in the third scene, I made meaning of this problem. I was also able to dive into the details of the process by which sunscreens damage corals, and display the effects to the reader. I demonstrated exactly how the corals and our planet were impacted. I used meaningful advocacy when I showed how Liv took initiative on her passion. I did this to inspire readers and show how they can take their own skills and use them to promote ocean awareness in their own way.