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How a dog sees colour

Visitors to our exhibition Colour: The Rainbow Revealed will have no doubt marvelled at the contraptions allowing them to see the world as animals do.

Our exhibition gives you the chance to view the world around you not as a human but as a dog, fish, and bee may do. But why exactly do these animals see the world differently to us?

A dog’s life

It’s often suggested that dogs are colour-blind which isn’t strictly true. Dogs can see colour just not as many as humans. This is because dogs have one less type of colour-detecting cell in their eye. These cells are known as cones and whereas humans have three, dogs only have two.

Each cone is sensitive to a certain wavelength of light which sends a signal to the brain allowing us to process colour. Human eyes can detect red, green, and blue which allows us to see any colour that is a combination of these wavelengths of light. Due to only having two cones, dogs can only detect yellow and blue thus meaning they cannot tell the difference between objects that are red and green.

So if you’re pondering whether to get Rover a green jacket or a red jacket this Christmas don’t worry about it, it will all be grey to him.

  • Dog in nature, All that splendour and it can hardly tell the difference, Pixabay CC0
    All that splendour and it can hardly tell the difference, Pixabay CC0

Eye of the bee-holder

Like humans, bees are able to detect three colours and can see any colours that are a combination of them. Unlike humans, however, bees cannot detect the colour red. Instead, their photoreceptors pick up green, blue, and ultraviolet light – the latter of which is not detectable by humans.

To attract bees to nectar, flowers often have petals a different colour to their leaves so bees can tell what to target. Some flowers including sunflowers even make use of ultraviolet to attract pollinators.

Bees are particularly attracted to purple, violet, and blue, but also to a colour known as “bee’s purple” that humans cannot see as it is a mixture of yellow and ultraviolet. If you were wondering what colour flowers to place in your pollinator garden there’s your answer.

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, We told you they like purples, Andrea Benson
    We told you they like purples, Andrea Benson

Fish-eye view

There are plenty of fish in the sea but sadly that means we can’t make definitive statements about all fish seeing all the same colours. However, we can talk about the way life underwater affects colour vision.

Vision underwater is obviously very different to vision above. Water absorbs light which is why as the depth of water increases vision is swiftly impaired. Light with longer wavelengths which allow the detection of colours like orange and red are absorbed by water much faster than light with short wavelengths such as green, blue, and ultraviolet. This can vary of course as different bodies of water may have different properties such as increased salinity or unique chemicals in water.

A fish that lives in shallow water will find far more use out of photoreceptors that allow it to see oranges and reds then a fish that lives in the deep ocean where these wavelengths don’t reach.

Like bees, many fish have evolved to be able to detect ultraviolet light for a number of reasons. Two-stripe damselfish, for example, have a colouration that can reflect ultraviolet light. When a predator is close they will use their colouration to warn other fish capable of seeing ultraviolet light of danger.

  • Common clownfish Amphiprion percular, Many of the fish found in shallower waters are more vibrant than their oceanic counterparts
    Many of the fish found in shallower waters are more vibrant than their oceanic counterparts

Enter the dragonfly

If you thought all of that was impressive prepare to be blown away. Humans and bees may be able to detect three different types of light, but studies of dragonflies have shown that these insects can detect no fewer than 11 wavelengths and as many as 30.

As far as we’re aware this is the most of any creature alive on earth and means that dragonflies can pick our colours we couldn’t even dream of.

  • Dragonfly, With as many as 30 photoreceptors there's no way of knowing what colours dragonflies can discern, Pixabay CC0
    With as many as 30 photoreceptors there's no way of knowing what colours dragonflies can discern, Pixabay CC0

The Mantle of Animism

Marcelo Camus from the Arts Team at St Christopher’s Hospice tells us about a project initiated through the Horniman’s new art programme The Studio, which was performed at one of our summer Big Wednesdays.  

Her mantles are made from the finest materials, including gold threads, and her mantle covers all of her body apart from her face and hands...her devotees can touch her mantle, leave prayer notes beneath her feet or place their head on the back of her mantle and ask for a miracle. This is the custom of the shrine... The Handbook of Contemporary Animism by Graham Harvey

What inspired the project?

The Horniman’s new co-curated area The Studio with a programme and commissioned exhibition have offered opportunities for community groups to create their own project for visitors for the family summer programme.

  • The Mantle of Animism, Planning the Mantle of Animism, St Christopher's Hospice
    Planning the Mantle of Animism, St Christopher's Hospice

Patients and carers visited the Horniman with St Christopher’s Arts Team to see the collections and to understand ideas of ethnographic curating and collecting. Inspired by the theme of Animism in nature, introduced by The Studio Collective and artist Serena Korda, but looking at it form a perspective of healing and medicine, two topics very close to the hearts of those in end of life care.

Inspired by this visit to the Horniman patients began working on a large-scale magical mantle and other inspired animals and objects. Made of a myriad of hand-felted imagery - the hyde of a large human-animal mask.

The Mantle has been worked on intensively and majestically performed at the Hospice as part of our annual summer exhibition.

What processes were involved in making the Mantle

We ran groups every day of the week and brought the animism concepts into all of them. On Mondays the community choir, made up of 80 members, created a song for the performance.

  • The Mantle of Animism, People making the Mantle of Animism, St Christopher's Hospice
    People making the Mantle of Animism, St Christopher's Hospice

On Tuesdays our Open Access Art Group explored dry felting to create a large surface fabric, while on Wednesdays, the group designed masks made into fling bird like puppets.

Thursdays and Fridays we continued to work with the mantle through dry and wet felting techniques.

We also invited school groups to come to work with the patients on the theme and to contribute to the project. This enables young people to visit the Hospice and dispel fear, taboos and stigma around death and dying.

Eventually after tremendous effort we created a magnificent magical beast!

Seeing the Mantle take shape and progress week after week has been so exciting. The stories, conversation and imagination that take place in sessions from each person is powerful. We hope this was communicated to audiences at the Big Wednesday event at the Hormiman.

  • The Mantle of Animism, The Mantle of Animism during a performance, St Christopher's Hospice
    The Mantle of Animism during a performance, St Christopher's Hospice

Tell us about St Christopher’s Hospice

The Hospice have been building their partnership with the Horniman over the last two years, and have a dedicated team of arts therapists and artists who run workshops for patients, families, carers and community members.

As neighbours in Sydenham, we think it is important to establish a working partnership with the Horniman. The many collections available right next to us, from anthropological funerary and ritual items through to musical instruments, all play a role in the importance or moment of death in our lives.

No one goes untouched by this, yet our tools to deal with it are underdeveloped and unspoken.

The Arts Team at St Christopher’s places this at centre stage, creating artworks in response to what people are thinking and feeling at the end of their lives. What better place to showcase this powerful message that a Museum dedicated to the artefacts we leave behind?

Tell us about yourself

For St Christopher’s I have helped lead on many large-scale collaborative projects both in and out of the Hospice.

My own artistic practice sits within what is termed Social Art Practice. I have been commissioned by organisations to create live immersive events, installations, social interventions and outdoor arts with communities and the public.

I contribute this experience to the Arts Team at the Hospice to consider how we can enable the patients and give them agency to create powerful social gestures. The focus of my work is about collaboration, co-authorship and positive group dynamics.

See The Lore of the Land exhibition from 20 October in The Studio.

Around the World in 80 Objects Part Three

Our Around the World in 80 objects tour is now over halfway complete. With Asia under our belts, we're starting our island hopping tour of Oceania.

Every day on our Twitter for 80 days we'll be posting a new object that you can see in our World Gallery as we navigate a route around the world.

We'll take you over mountains, deserts, and oceans, as we plot a course that shows the global span of our Anthropology collection.

Having started right here in England, so far we've moved south through Europe, across Africa, and swept through Asia. Now we'll go island-hopping through Oceania, and traverse the Americas, before swinging back around to Lewisham via the Arctic.

So join us as we follow in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg and celebrate human creativity, imagination, and adaptability around the world.














 

What's important to you?

Our World Gallery has been asking the questions, "What do you hold dear?" and "What objects are important to you?" so we've pulled together some of the responses in the feedback area of the gallery.

My camera

  • My camera, My Camera is important to me because it was my sisters and she's not here anymore. I miss her x
    My Camera is important to me because it was my sisters and she's not here anymore. I miss her x

Munchy Mike

  • Munchy Mike, Munchy Mike
    Munchy Mike

Silver hand of Fatima

  • Silver hand of Fatima, A solid silver hand of Fatima that my grandpa passed down to me when he died. We don't know where exactly it is from but he got it whilst travelling South America I think. It is my most important possession and means everything to me.
    A solid silver hand of Fatima that my grandpa passed down to me when he died. We don't know where exactly it is from but he got it whilst travelling South America I think. It is my most important possession and means everything to me.

Yellow Submarine album

  • Yellow Submarine album, My Yellow Submarine album - The Beatles
    My Yellow Submarine album - The Beatles

Grandmother's ring

  • Grandmothers ring, My late grandmother's ring as it makes me feel she is still with me
    My late grandmother's ring as it makes me feel she is still with me

Ear plugs

  • Ear plugs, Ear plugs
    Ear plugs

Family

  • family, Family is important to me
    Family is important to me

Ice cream

  • Ice cream, Ice cream
    Ice cream

Gin

  • Gin, Gin
    Gin

Saffron and oranges

Orange is one of the brightest colours on the spectrum so obviously it has always captured the human imagination.

Pommes and oranges

It may not stun you to learn that the colour orange derives its name from the fruit of the same title, but where that word comes from is quite the globetrotting story.

Orange derives from Old French, in which the fruit was known as pomme d’orange, which in turn came from the Italian word arancia. Here’s where it gets confusing. Arancia is actually an adapted version of the Arabic word nāranj, which in itself is taken from the Sanskrit word naranga. Breathe.

The first recorded use of orange in the English language is in a will from 1512 which is now kept in the Public Record Office. Prior to the introduction of orange to the English language, saffron was in common use and described the colour. Most common though was the use of the words ġeolurēad and ġeolucrog which referred to a reddish orange and a yellowish orange respectively.

The King of Carrots

As well as its namesake citrus fruit, orange is a colour that in nature we often associate with autumn and tubers. Carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes are all orange and their colouration is thanks to a chemical called carotene. Carotenes are pigments that are used by plants to convert light energy into the chemical energy they need to grow. The leaves of deciduous trees turn orange in the autumn as the production of green chlorophyll ends leaving the orange pigmentation of carotene only.

Although carotene derives its name from carrots, prior to the 18th-century carrots were not orange at all. European carrots were usually white or red and carrots from Asia were purple. Orange carrots were actually bred by Dutch farmers to pay tribute to William I of Orange who had helped lead the Dutch in their independence struggle against the Spanish Habsburgs.

One side-effect of orange entering the lexicon so late is that a number of animals that are distinctly orange in colouration are often referred to as red such as foxes and squirrels. Orange may not seem an ideal colouration for these animals given they spend a lot of their time amongst green leaves, but it still provides useful camouflage amongst the brown of wooded areas.

Worth its weight in saffron

For a very long time it was difficult for orange pigments to be produced by humans in great quantities safely. From ancient times through to the middle ages, orange dyes were produced using realgar, orpiment, minium, and massicot, but these minerals are highly toxic.

Saffron was a natural source of orange pigment but proved far too expensive to be used to produce large quantities. Saffron is best known as a spice derived from the Crocus sativus (saffron crocus) and has been highly prized since the era of the Minoans at least. Saffron has always been highly prized throughout Europe and Asia for use as a spice, in perfumes, as pigment, and as medicine.

Saffron is so highly valued as it’s quite simply a case of there being too little to go around. Saffron itself is the stigma of the saffron crocus’ flower, with each flower only producing three stigmas. To put that in perspective – a pound of saffron is at least 70,000 threads. This rarity means that even in the modern day with all our intensive farming a pound of saffron can cost as much as US$5000.

As science progressed and orange pigments such as chrome orange could be made synthetically the colour took on importance for a number of artistic movements. Orange was highly popular with the Pre-Raphaelites of Britain inspired by the flowing red-orange hair of Elizabeth Siddal, a model and wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists such as Monet, Van Gogh, and Gaugin, were also keen adopters of orange in their work. Colour theory dictated that placing orange next to blue brought out that vibrancy of both colours and so it is common to find these colours in many of the best known paintings of these movements.

  • Flaming June, Flaming June by Sir Frederic Leighton, a Pre-Raphaelite painter, Public Domain
    Flaming June by Sir Frederic Leighton, a Pre-Raphaelite painter, Public Domain

A "Glorious" colour

Due to the House of Orange-Nassau, one of the most important European royal houses in history, the political connotations of Orange are still felt across the continent. Although they are now known as the ancestors of the royal family of the Netherlands, the House of Orange-Nassau originated in the 12th century in the Principality of Orange in southern France.

The principality was not named for the fruit but rather took its name from a Roman city founded in 35BC called Arausio, for a local Celtic river god.

The Principality of Orange was inherited by William I, the son of the Count of Nassau, in 1544, who would unite the titles upon his father’s death to create the House of Orange-Nassau. William would become a particular favourite of the Habsburgs who ruled the Holy Roman Empire and was installed as governor of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht. However, outraged at the violence the Habsburgs were perpetrating against the Protestant population of the Netherlands, William would turn against his masters and lead the fledgling nation in its fight for independence during the Eight Years’ War.

  • William I, William I, Prince of Orange, Public Domain
    William I, Prince of Orange, Public Domain

Due to the actions of William of Orange, orange is now a colour associated with both the Netherlands and Protestantism. This connection between the colour orange and Protestantism in time spread to the British Isles as William’s descendant and namesake, William III of England, would depose the Catholic King James II alongside Queen Mary II during the Glorious Revolution.

To commemorate William and Mary’s victories, Protestants in Ireland adopted orange as their colour to honour the Dutchman. The orange of the Republic of Ireland’s flag represents the Protestant communities of the nation and in Northern Ireland, the Loyal Orange Institution, or Orange Order as it is more commonly known, is a Protestant and British unionist society named for William.

Illumination

It is not just Protestants though who place specific importance on the colour orange. It is a hugely significant colour in both Buddhism and Hinduism too, and it is common to see monks of both religions wearing saffron robes across Asia.

In Hinduism, it is common to see Krishna adorned in saffron clothing, and the colour is associated with sacrifice, abstinence, and a search for salvation. The flag of India includes a saffron sash to represent the Hindus of the multicultural nation.

For Buddhists, saffron and orange is the colour of illumination and it was decreed by the Buddha himself that monks should wear saffron robes. Monks of the different branches of Buddhism have adopted different coloured robes, and it is the monks of Theravada Buddhism that is mainly practiced in southeast Asia that have chosen orange as their colour.

  • Buddhist Monks, Buddhist monks dye their robes not with saffron but most often with turmeric
    Buddhist monks dye their robes not with saffron but most often with turmeric

Safety first

For many of us, orange will be a colour associated primarily with safety.

Orange is the colour most easily seen in dim light or against water making it a colour that is commonly used when high-visibility is required. This has seen it used to colour lifeboats, life jackets, bridges, prisoner uniforms, and even astronaut suits.

Even black boxes used to record flight data on aeroplanes are actually coloured orange so they are easy to spot with the naked eye.

Playlist ORANGE

In recent years plenty of musical artists have turned to shades of orange for inspiration, check out our orange-themed Spotify playlist to see what we're talking about.

Whether it's Frank Ocean's debut "Chanel ORANGE" or R.E.M's more sinisterly named "Orange Crush", it's a great leaping off point for you to find out plenty more about this fascinating colour.

 

Don't forget though that you can learn plenty more about a whole spectrum of colours at our exhibition Colour: The Rainbow Revealed.

The Museum of Your Life part 2

Our World Gallery asked the questions, "What objects do you hold dear?" and "What is a life well lived?" 

We've been asking you to tell us about the objects that mean something to you, and we've had some fantastic responses.

Designer Wayne Hemingway tell us about how an early Buzzcocks EP helped spark a life of creativity.

CBeeBies presenter and self-proclaimed 'nature nut' Ferne Corrigan tells us about her salad servers from Malawi.

Percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie tells us about her waterphone, which not only sounds but looks beautiful.

Sculptor David Mach RA tells us what his daughters hand written note on a napkin means to him.

 Actress Kellie Shirley talks about her piece of theare history and what it reminds her of.

What do you hold dear? Tell us online and visit the World Gallery to hear more stories.

Around the World in 80 Objects Part Two

Our Around the World in 80 World Gallery Objects Tour is well under way now. We've travelled across Southern Europe, the length and breadth of Africa, and now we're heading towards Asia.

Every day on our Twitter for 80 days we'll be posting a new object that you can see in our World Gallery as we navigate a route around the world.

We'll take you over mountains, deserts, and oceans, as we plot a course that shows the global span of our Anthropology collection.

Having started right here in England, so far we've moved south through Europe, across Africa, ando now we're looking to sweep through Asia. From there we'll go island-hopping through Oceania, and traverse the Americas, before swinging back around to Lewisham via the Arctic.

So join us as we follow in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg and celebrate human creativity, imagination, and adaptability around the world.

 























 

Growing a Garden from Scratch

Damien from the Gardens team fills us in on the challenges of growing so many plants from other environments right here in Forest Hill.

With the help of Professor of Horticultural Ecology James Hitchmough, our Gardens Team has developed a new Grasslands Gardens and that has meant planting 5,000 perennials from North America and South Africa. 

It’s particularly satisfying for us to see so many plants emerge in our Grasslands Gardens because we produced most of them from seed or cuttings in the Horniman’s own nursery.

  • Grasslands Garden, The Grasslands Garden beginning to bloom, Connie Churcher
    The Grasslands Garden beginning to bloom, Connie Churcher

Roughly 95% of the North American and 40% of the South African species for the display were produced in-house.

Planning for production began in February 2017 when we sat down to look over the final plant list for the beds. Plant production in the Horniman nursery in the past had been mostly bulk crops of annuals – perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 plants per crop - for bedding out the Sunken Garden, so the numbers we saw on the list weren’t a worry for us.

  • Grasslands Garden, The planting plan, Damien Midgley
    The planting plan, Damien Midgley

The largest crops for this project were Echinacea paradoxa, Echinacea tennessensis and the prairie grass Sporobolus heterolepis. These were to be grown in crops of 300 plants each, with most crops under 100 plants.

The big difference with this project was that we weren’t producing quick-growing annuals: plants that complete their life cycle, germination to death, in a single season. These are slower, more demanding perennials for a permanent display. This meant adjusting the growing techniques that the nursery was used to, and getting to know some unfamiliar species, in a short space of time.

James Hitchmough guided us on suitable soil mixes and this, combined with our own research along with information provided by seed suppliers, guided us on timings and conditions for sowing specific crops.

Our sowing mix was equal-parts potting compost, coarse sand, and horticultural grit. For reasons of space, we chose to sow into seed trays rather than individual pots.

As a general rule perennials are better sown into deep individual pots (nine centimetre pots are ideal) for quick, undisturbed root development but this takes up a lot of bench space. Other demands on the greenhouses in April meant space was at a premium, and sowing in trays bought us some time until plants for other projects left the nursery.

  • Grasslands Garden, Seeds and seedlings starting to grow, Damien Midgley
    Seeds and seedlings starting to grow, Damien Midgley

By mid-May, the nursery was starting to empty as plants for other displays went out into the Gardens. We finally had some bench space to work with, and some well-developed seedlings ready to be transferred to nine centimetre pots.

At this stage, our soil mix changed to four parts potting compost, three parts sand, and three parts grit. The higher proportion of potting compost reflecting the plants’ increasing nutrient requirements as they developed, while the sand and grit kept the growing medium open, oxygen-rich, and free-draining.

The process of moving the seedlings from shared seed trays to individual pots, known to gardeners as pricking out, was a major job for us at a busy time of year. Over 2,500 litres of soil mix had to be made up, thousands of pots filled and put into carry trays, hundreds of labels written, and of course, those thousands of seedlings carefully lifted from their trays and potted up one by one.

Once they were potted up the plants spent another fortnight in the greenhouse, recovering from their root disturbance in sheltered conditions. During the second of these two weeks, all the greenhouse vents and doors were left open 24 hours a day, gradually acclimatising the plants to outdoor conditions.

  • Grasslands Garden, Progress of the seedlings over time, Damien Midgley
    Progress of the seedlings over time, Damien Midgley

Finally, at the start of June, they were moved to the outdoor standing ground in the Horniman nursery to grow on to planting size under the watchful eye of the Gardens Team – aphids, snails, and slugs are a constant nuisance.

It was a long process but now that the beds are bursting into life for the public to enjoy we have no doubt it was well worth it.

We hope you’ll come by to visit this beautiful and constantly evolving new display garden.

  • Grasslands Garden, The Grasslands Garden beginning to bloom, Connie Churcher
    The Grasslands Garden beginning to bloom, Connie Churcher

Fossil Folklore

Visitor Host Vicky tells us what inspired her to plan her latest gallery tour at the Horniman - fossil folklore. Join Vicky for her Fossil Folklore Tour taking place at 11.30am on Saturday 28 July.

For the past few months at the Horniman, we have been developing something new for the public to enjoy. A new part of my role as a Visitor Host is to lead curiosity tours of our galleries. Working in the galleries as a Visitor Host I find there is always something to learn, even from an object I’ve seen a million times, so I’ve found this new duty very exciting. We have been allowed to choose whatever we want to talk about in the Horniman, giving us the freedom to show our own personal take on the collections.

I have a great interest in stories. What stories do the objects in the Horniman have that aren’t explained in their descriptions? What are their untold stories? How have they changed and how have they changed us?

One of the displays that initially sparked my interest was the ‘Tongue Stones’. These were thought to have fallen from the moon and offered protection from poison, this struck me as the beginning of a great story, a hint of mystery that needed to be delved into.

  • Magalodon tooth, Tongue Stones are actually fossilised shark's teeth that have come from a Megalodon.
    Tongue Stones are actually fossilised shark's teeth that have come from a Megalodon.

Tongue Stones are actually fossilised shark’s teeth that have come from a Megalodon, an extinct giant shark that would have grown as large as 18 metres and roamed the seas from around 28 million years ago until 1.6 million years ago, when they were wiped out during the Pleistocene extinction.

So who thought they fell from the moon, and why? I had decided on the theme of my tour - fossil folklore. So the hunt began for more weird and wonderful stories.

Being in the Horniman made it really easy to research the subject, as there’s so much knowledge all around. I was able to talk to curators such as Dr. Emma Nicholls, the Deputy Keeper of Natural History, who was a big help in developing my tour; I searched our library for the perfect book, and even used our online database to find out fascinating information about the Horniman’s collections.

Our fossils are an often overlooked part of the Horniman, with most of them being located in cabinets that form a timeline around the balcony of the Natural History Gallery. These are the oldest objects in the Museum, with some of them dating back 500 million years. I find it hard to think about time in terms of millions of years.

  • fossilised sea urchin, I find it fascinating that even before people knew about fossilisation and evolution, they were trying to explain the curious shapes they found in these objects, Victoria King
    I find it fascinating that even before people knew about fossilisation and evolution, they were trying to explain the curious shapes they found in these objects, Victoria King

People have been collecting and using these fossils for thousands of years. I find it fascinating that even before people knew about fossilisation and evolution, they were trying to explain the curious shapes they found in these objects, creating fabulous folklore.

With a mixture of fact and folklore the tour gives descriptions of five fossils in the Natural History Gallery and how they link with medieval lords, mythical beasts, magic, gods, even how they were used to help bread rise.

Also, what’s great is that after having sparked an interest in how fossils have been used as charms and amulets, there is now a new display of British charms in the World Gallery that’s just opened. So there’s lots more for me to discover and expand on the theme of fossil folklore, which I look forward to doing in future tours.

Vicky's next Fossil Folklore Tour will take place at 11.30am on Saturday 28 July.

Reef Encounters: Dr. Mary Hagedorn

As part of International Year of the Reef, we spoke to Dr. Mary Hagedorn, Director of MarineGEO Hawaii and creator of the first genome repository for endangered coral species, who gave us a "call-to-arms about the future of our life on the planet".

What is your typical day?

My typical day often starts out in a boat where I am motoring over to the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology in their launch to my laboratory on Coconut Island. This marine laboratory is one of the best in the world for studying coral because we are surrounded by acres of coral reefs and have excellent tools for studying their biology.

A lot of my time is spent writing and talking to people to help fund my work but my summers are filled with field work where we collect coral in the Bay, bring them into our seawater tanks and then study their reproduction.

It can be exhilarating when everything goes as planned. However, it is often very tiring physically; it’s hard work and there are lots of long hours without a lot of sleep, as there are many, many long nights and early mornings involved in this type of endeavor.

  • Dr Mary Hagedorn, Dr. Hagedorn is the Director of MarineGEO Hawaii, a global near-shore long-term monitoring program, J Daniels
    Dr. Hagedorn is the Director of MarineGEO Hawaii, a global near-shore long-term monitoring program, J Daniels

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?

I started working on coral reef preservation as the result of an accident, on an expedition in the Amazon in 2002. This accident altered my view of safety for expeditions in such remote areas.

I was already working on the cryopreservation of fishes in the laboratory and decided that this same approach would be useful and needed for coral reefs in the future.

What inspires you in your work?

I am a futurist. I am always looking to the future to see how my science can make life better for people and animals.

When I first started my work, few people saw the value or need for banking coral. Today’s students see a direct connection to their lives, so I am inspired to continue by their interest and enthusiasm.

If 40 years from now, kids get to see a coral reef as a result of my work that is a great thing to contemplate and gives me a great sense of satisfaction.

  • Smithsonian MarineGEO, The Smithsonian Institute's MarineGEO on Coconut Island is also home  to the HawaiÊ»i Institute of Marine Biology., Smithsonian Institute
    The Smithsonian Institute's MarineGEO on Coconut Island is also home to the HawaiÊ»i Institute of Marine Biology., Smithsonian Institute

What would your message for the future of reefs be?

To me, the future of our reefs is really a call-to-arms about the future of our life on the planet.

We may think that saving species, especially marine species, is something that other people must figure out because the ocean seems so distant, vast and unapproachable. However, all our individual actions impact the Earth in some way. Even though we are one of a collective of billions of people on Earth, our footprints matter. So, I would urge all people who love the ocean for any reason take responsibility for our own actions and impacts.

A critical first step is starting to imagine how these impacts will affect future generations.

I try to imagine what life on Earth will be like without coral reefs. Will we have fish? Will more people be hungry because there are fewer fish? Will our oceans be less able to produce oxygen because reefs are degraded? I see all these scenes very clearly.

It does not mean that it will happen, but it drives me to move forward with my work. My feeling is that unless we can band together in a moral imperative across nations, we will not be able to save our reefs.

What’s your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

Although this may sound odd, one of my favorite creatures on the reef is the sea urchin embryo. They are amazingly beautiful and fascinating.

They develop eight arms as they grow and swim around like unearthly underwater starships. From there they develop into some of the most essential creatures on the reefs - herbivores. These keep the reefs from being overrun by algae. Sea urchins will be some of the most important components to keep reefs intact for the future, and it all starts with these beautiful little spaceships.

  • Sea Urchin Larva, Sea urchin larvae develop eight arms as they grow and swim around like unearthly underwater starships, Elizabeth Lenz
    Sea urchin larvae develop eight arms as they grow and swim around like unearthly underwater starships, Elizabeth Lenz

What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen at sea?

I can’t imagine anything in nature being odd.

What’s the next big thing for your work?

Coral have some of the most restricted reproduction on the planet. Most coral spawn once a year for 45 mins each of two nights. This is a very short time window to figure out how to collect and preserve them. Unfortunately, bleaching is now becoming more common on most reefs, and this stress is damaging coral reproduction.

For example, last year we organised a field expedition to Mo'orea and the coral did not even spawn. This is both expensive and disheartening. As a result, we are initiating a new project to cryopreserve tiny fragments of coral, we call them micro-fragments.

If this is successful, we can work anywhere in the world at any time to help freeze coral. We are hoping that, once thawed, these tiny fragments of coral will quickly grow into mature coral in a few years that can reproduce.

Freezing micro-fragments will allow us to work more quickly, and train more people more broadly to help create these essential cryobanks. It is crucial to gather these frozen collections while the genetic diversity on the reefs is still broad.

Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

One of my heroes is Ken Nedimyer. Ken embodies the ethic of ‘going out and trying to help fix the world one person at a time’. He is an amazing person. His work on coral restoration using coral trees, and his inspiration to a generation of people working in the field, has helped turn around a major loss of coral coverage in the Caribbean.

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