“Burning Underwater: A Vigil for Coral Reefs,” involves a dynamic and interactive vigil that draws awareness to the bleaching and mortality of stony corals in the East Flower Garden Banks. We chose to hold a vigil as opposed to a funeral or a memorial because vigils are defined as a period of staying awake when one should be asleep. So many humans are blind, unwatching, or asleep in regards to how corals are being affected by anthropogenic climate change all over the world, but recognizing the death of certain reefs might be the first step to moving towards sustainable action.


The wax coral structure was built to artistically reflect commonly found boulder corals from the Flower Garden Banks which was severely damaged during the third global bleaching event. Each coral was formed in layers, with white wax making up the core of the coral structures and colorful wax on the outside. By making the corals into candles we will literally set our reef on fire and watch as the colorful wax will melt away to leave “bleached” white puddled remains of the wax coral reef behind. By incorporating fire into the piece, the burning of fossil fuels and subsequent climate change will be implicated as a driver of coral reef decline.


The combination of both the wax structure and the performance

pieces at the vigil forces people to awaken to the realities of our world and our coral reefs. It requires them to make a decision about how they will move forward in the future. Viewers will be left thinking, mourning, and set on a new path towards a sustainable anthropocene.

Rachel Buissereth and Lauren Howe-Kerr

Rachel Buissereth and Lauren Howe-Kerr are seniors at Rice University. They met while doing a rainforest and reef ecology study abroad in Australia and bonded over their mutual love of corals and frustration at local communities for paying little attention to the destruction of such an important natural resource. Rachel has previously studied a combination of environmental engineering and the environment as viewed through the lens of social sciences and the humanities. In particular, she is interested in how to empower indigenous communities to collaborate with governments and create sustainable structures throughout the world. Additionally, Rachel has been a producing and performing in theatrical productions for most of her life. Her passion is using stories to evoke an audience response.


Lauren is an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major with a focus on marine science whose research interests include coral physiology and coral microbial ecology. After studying abroad in both the Turks and Caicos Islands and Cairns, Australia, she became particularly interested in the coral-algal symbiosis and the role this relationship plays in corals’ ability to deal with environmental stressors. In the coming years, Lauren with be pursuing a Phd program at Rice University to continue studying the effects of viruses in various coral species. Rachel’s strong background in theatre and environmental sciences coupled with Lauren’s studies in marine ecology and evolutionary biology complement each other to create a project that will lie between the two disciplines. In the future they seek to explore different ways of environmental education and creative ways to communicate honest and relevant science to a broad audience.



A Vigil for Coral Reefs 



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