Coral City

Coral City

By Amanda Donohue

Water keeps seeping in under my mask. Every time I dunk my head under the cerulean-colored waves I go a little too far and way too salty water funnels into my giant breathing straw. I realize I'm not supposed to dip my head that far under, but the shocking colors of the wildlife beneath my too-tight flippers are calling me. Calling me to get closer.

Below me, coral clusters grow on top of one another—tall, like skyscrapers. Their rough grooved arms coil upward toward the sun. An animal often mistook for a plant, these underwater cities are actually bursts of small species called polyps.  They root themselves to the ocean floor, using the algae that lives alongside them to grow. They excrete limestone to build and strengthen their anatomy. It hardens, like bricks and the towers stretch higher and higher as each dies and regenerates over and over, the skeletons of forefathers welded to limestone as each trunk becomes stronger, more prosperous.

New younger polyps connect to the dead ones left behind at the top, brick by brick by brick—slowly, steadily they take on their role in creating an intricate metropolis for snails, blue tangs, water snakes, clown fish and more. Given the height of this intricate tower at the center point of the city, I estimate that this underwater Gotham took hundreds of years and thousands of lives to cultivate. 

I watch as the fish swim in and out of polyps crevices like doors; their stripes like suits and ties, their fins outstretched, like briefcases. Families drop their children off in schools; run errands; greet others; dance in spirals. An intricate city community, they swim in rhythms choreographed by what seems to be a higher power.

I feel like a spy, an outsider, watching this huge, hidden Indian Ocean community that looks as intricate and as complicated as my own back in New York. Until…I can’t see again. My goggles have filled.

I shoot to the top to fix my gear. No longer able to float on my mask, I tread water while I adjust my man-made rubber gills.

And that’s when I feel it; my flipper scrapes along the top of the coral, gritty and solid; I feel a chunk crumble.

Barely willing to see what I’ve just done, I force myself to look.

I look under to see the damage I've caused just in time to watch a large piece of architecture roll from the top of the highest skyscraper. I watch it fall, shoot toward the ground like the first of the world trade towers.

A terrorist, I am a disruption; I have caused a catastrophe in a way of breaking and entering a world that is not mine.

Even the sharks and predators that feed on the fish who live here make less damage to the city than I have at this point.

Not only have I damaged the largest part of the city, the highest, but I've made a mockery of the lives it took to make this. Thousands—maybe hundreds of thousands— of polyps died for this one pinnacle, died to anchor the bottom bricks, the foundation of this life and I, with one kick, tarnished their memory. Because with this one kick, I've killed the newest polyps, the ones that spent their whole lives building on the skeletons of the dead ones who sacrificed before them. The newest polyps are now gone, dropped to the sea floor, alone.

They cannot die and regenerate new life to continue the growth of this city. They can not assume their role here, cannot meet their purpose.  What if this tower never grows again? What if they can't rebuild? Can’t substitutive a Freedom Tower?

I back up in panic, an accidental terrorist, anxious to take it all back.


Find out more about our Managing Editor, Amanda Donohue here

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