Story at a glance

  • The wildly popular Pokémon franchise has updated its coral-inspired character to reflect the effects of climate change.
  • Corsola used to be happy and coral pink but is now semitransparent, grey and ghostly.
  • The game explicitly links the update to real-world events: “Sudden climate change wiped out this ancient kind of Corsola.”

Corsola joined the Pokémon universe in 1999 in the game series’ second generation. It was a bright pink coral-inspired character with four stubby legs and an adorable smile… until now. In Pokémon Sword and Shield, the latest addition to the Pokémon franchise released on Nov. 15, Corsola looks different: grey, semi-transparent and sad.

“Sudden climate change wiped out this ancient kind of Corsola,” says the Pokedex, the in-game encyclopedia of Pokémon characters. The new design is “ghost” type, its empty white shell seems to be a reference to the coral bleaching that is threatening coral reefs worldwide.

Coral bleaching is an event when corals, which are tiny polyps that form reefs together, expel the colorful algae that live inside of them. The effects of climate change, including high temperatures and acidic waters, in addition to stressors like pollution, can prompt a bleaching event. The coral polyps rely on their algae for nutrients, so if the algae is gone for too long, the coral will die.

According to the Ocean Health Index, 60 percent of reefs are already seriously damaged, and 75 percent of reefs are threatened. Healthy corals only grow 1 to 5 centimeters per year, so the Great Barrier Reef is millions of years old. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef, but about one-third of its coral died in 2018 because of bleaching events.

“These events are coming more frequently than the coral can recover," Mark Eakin of NOAA's Coral Reef Watch told NPR.

Some recovery efforts, like coral transplantation, are trying to make up for the damage by artificially redirecting coral’s natural asexual reproduction process.

Pokémon’s decision to update their coral-inspired design is a step forward for raising awareness of coral bleaching and ocean health. If you’re inspired to do more for coral reefs, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association has suggestions, including giving coral reefs a wide radius if you swim or dive near them and choosing coral-safe sunscreen.

Published on Nov 19, 2019