Members of the Coral Reef Conservancy Project host an information table at Los Altos High’s recent holiday fair.

Los Altos High School’s Coral Reef Conservancy Project continues to collaborate with legislators and organizations in an effort to pass the federal Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Reauthorization Act of 2021.

Junior Medha Rajagopalan, founder and the co-president of the club, said the bill, H.R.241, has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and awaits action in the Senate. The club plans to lobby U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo while preparing for the outcome of the legislation.

“We’re getting in contact with Anna Eshoo, and we’re hoping that she can possibly work with us, because she’s really involved in the environmental side of things – that’s one of her main things,” Rajagopalan said. “We’re hoping we can work with her to get it moving again … and get it passed in the Senate.”

Spreading the word

Club co-president Simran Gupta, a junior, said the club is spreading the word about the bill, speaking to as many people and organizations as possible. Members have successfully secured support from organizations including the nonprofits Coral Reef Alliance and Amigos de las Americas.

“We have been trying to get support from other organizations, even if it might not be through endorsements, whether that be presentations where they talk about our club, through social media, just to get the word out about the bill,” Gupta said.

The team leading the project gives presentations to students. Some are local, like the one at Egan Junior High School for seventh-graders last March, but others have crossed time zones, including one for Shirayuri Gakuen Junior and Senior High School in Japan in late September.

Rajagopalan said not many people know about coral bleaching – a process that occurs when corals lose their vivid colors and turn white – but it affects people all over the world. Places like Japan are situated along major coastlines and along coral reefs, and they rely on seafood and products from the ocean. The club shares information on coral bleaching and how the government handles the situation.

Members explain how coral bleaching impacts marine and human life alike. One-quarter of current resources provided by coral reefs, such as seafood species, are expected to die in the next 10 years. As the coral reef is a keystone species, meaning many other species rely on it within the ecosystem, its deterioration exacerbates food shortages.

Rajagopalan sees the effect presentations are having on students.

“It’s really important (to give these presentations) because they don’t really know about what’s happening, so we want to educate them about it,” she said of students’ response. “I think we brought in a lot of interest, because they know it exists, and they know that the species are there, but up until (the presentations), they didn’t know what was wrong with it, that it was deteriorating. … Seeing them take interest in it was really exciting, because it’s something that we’re all passionate about.”

The club has faced some challenges as its pursues its mission. Junior Hannah Choi, club secretary, found the time-zone differences especially difficult to work around. She recalls some of the team members having to stay up late to accommodate everyone’s schedules.

“The presentations went really well though,” Choi said. “We got a lot of interest, questions, and we also got emails afterward that asked for more information. There were audio issues, too, but everything went well in the end.”

Future plans

As the Coral Reef Conservancy Project refocuses its efforts beyond H.R.241, members are tackling other initiatives related to coral bleaching. The club is planning a convention in hopes members can talk with people about small things they can do to effect change.

Rajagopalan also hopes they will be able to open chapters of the Coral Reef Conservancy Project at other schools.

“By hosting the convention and getting scientists, governmental officials, people to come in and talk, we hope that we can reach a larger demographic of people and inspire them to take part in similar things, whether it’s coral-reef-related or something else that’s really affected by climate change,” she said.

Choi added that the club is planning a speaker series that will give a platform to scientists and researchers who study coral reefs and coral bleaching. The club’s goal is to have several scientists speak with science classes at Los Altos High.

“Hopefully, that will spark a lot of interest,” she said. “It’s research done firsthand by these people; they know what’s going on and what efforts are being done.”

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Staff Writer

Angela Tam covers local schools as the Town Crier's education reporter.