Who: Zara M., PLC Sydney

Big Problem: Coral Bleaching is an entertaining investigation into one of the most widespread issues affecting coral reefs. Inspired by her passion for the ocean, Zara set out to educate viewers on some of the main causes of coral bleaching, the scientific process behind it and ways that everyone can work together to help minimise the issue.

Awarded second place in the 2021 University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize – Primary


Zara M. - Finalist, 2021 University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize — Primary

Zara was awarded second place in the 2021 University of Sydney Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize – Primary, for her short film Big Problem: Coral Bleaching.

Image: Nazanin M.
© Nazanin M.

Why did you decide to enter the Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize?

I really enjoy science and the solutions it can offer to so many problems. One of the problems I had learnt about was coral bleaching and the effects it has on the marine ecosystem and our beautiful Great Barrier Reef. Entering the Sleek Geeks Eureka Prize gave me the best opportunity to not only spread awareness of coral bleaching but also share the science behind why it's happening. The science also provides evidence that we can all, as individuals, do something to lessen the bleaching and save our coral.


Your passion for the ocean and conservation really shines through in Big Problem: Coral Bleaching. How did this passion begin?

I've always been passionate about our environment and especially about our oceans. It all started when I was six years old and had the privilege of visiting our Great Barrier Reef from Hamilton Island. It was, and still is, one of the most amazing experiences of my life. All the beauty, mesmerising colours and marine life left me in awe. Then I learnt about climate change and how our carbon footprint was slowly destroying these underwater treasures. So many young people, even at my age, have spoken up to protect our environment for future generations. And I wanted to do that for the coral, but also add science to make my argument even stronger.


So many young people, even at my age, have spoken up to protect our environment for future generations.

What was the best part about making your film?

There were so many awesome parts to making my film. The one that really stands out is when I met Professor Tracy Ainsworth from the Centre of Marine Science and Innovation at UNSW. She really unpacked the science for me and explained, right down to cellular level, why bleaching happens. She also shared her personal experiences investigating coral and the life they support, which was so fascinating. It was also so eye-opening to see how scientists are fighting for change through the discoveries they make.



What was the most difficult part?

My goodness, the most challenging part was the technical parts of making the film. Things like matching my voice over to the film, learning a new app to try and create an animation and trying to navigate iMovie! But what's so great, is that if I hadn't entered Sleek Geeks, I would never have learnt these new skills. I really got pushed out of my comfort zone and there was such a sense of achievement at the end.


But what's so great, is that if I hadn't entered Sleek Geeks, I would never have learnt these new skills. I really got pushed out of my comfort zone and there was such a sense of achievement at the end.

Can you tell us a little bit about your planning process and some of the steps you took before you started filming?

Planning was a massive part of this whole process. My first step was to capture as much information as I could about coral bleaching and brainstorm ideas. From speaking to my amazing science teacher at PLC Sydney — Mrs Martin — to reading books, interviewing experts and watching documentaries, the first step was huge!


Then I had to break down all this information into little bits to see what was the most important. Writing the script and understanding the experiment was next. I then made all the props and began learning the apps I needed to create what I wanted in the script. Mind you, the script changed so many times! You have to be flexible to do that. Lastly it was filming and editing the film for what seemed like a million times!


You have a real flair for science communication! Is this something you might like to pursue in the future?

Wow! Thank you! I never saw this as a flair for science communication. But now that I understand what this is and how much I enjoy communicating science topics I'm passionate about, I will definitely pursue this in the future. Commentators like David Attenborough have had so much positive influence for our animals and environment. I would love to raise awareness and have a positive impact like that whilst learning about the science of why things happen.


Sponsored by the University of Sydney, the Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize encourages students to communicate a scientific concept in a short film. It is intended to support budding young scientists across the nation, who will be our future leaders in research, discovery and communication.