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Let’s Beat Plastic Pollution

As an organisation, we strive to be as environmentally friendly as possible. From improving energy efficiency inside to recycling and composting outside.

In light of our current #BeatPlasticPollution pop-up display in the Aquarium, we are looking at the effects plastic is having on the world’s oceans, marine life and us.

Did you know?

  • Around the world, one million plastic drinking bottles are bought every minute.
  • 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year. 
  • Half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once — and then thrown away.
  • Plastic rubbish on our streets is washed into storm drains, to the sea polluting our oceans.
  • A staggering 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans every year.
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world-around the size of 500 jumbo jets.
  • Most plastic in the ocean breaks up into tiny particles, which are then swallowed by fish.

  • Fishtank and fact, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    , Horniman Museum and Gardens

  • If current trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050!
  • By 2050, 99% of seabirds could have ingested plastic. Wild seabirds have started laying eggs that contain substances and chemicals found in plastic.
  • Animals get tangled in plastic rubbish like six-pack rings and old fishing nets.

  • Fish and fact 3 , Horniman Museum and Gardens
    , Horniman Museum and Gardens

  • Clownfish and plastic, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    , Horniman Museum and Gardens

  • Whales entangled in derelict fishing gear can endure a slow death - the 'ghost nets' that have been left or lost in the ocean by fishermen, are often nearly invisible in the dim light, so hard to avoid.
  • Right now, there are microplastics inside your body, in the food you just ate and the air you’re breathing. It is still unknown to scientists what effect this may have on our bodies.
  • Coral reefs are smothered in plastic bags and litter destroying this important habitat. See what pioneering work our Aquarists with international partners are doing to help restore our coral reefs in Project Coral.

  • Fish and fact 2, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    , Horniman Museum and Gardens

It may feel like one person can’t do much, but by not taking that plastic bag at the supermarket or by using the cafe coffee cup on your morning order you are helping to make a big difference to our environment for our future to come.

Things we can do to help

  • Support local and national organisations – like us – who are taking action against plastic pollution.
  • Ask your local restaurant to stop using plastic straws, bamboo, paper and metal are the smarter alternatives. The Horniman Café refills water bottles, stocks canned water and uses plant-based packaging.
  • Bring your own coffee mug or travel mug to work.
  • Choose reusable products that are designed to be durable, repairable, reusable, refillable or upgradable.
  • Recycle - Separate your waste and turn metals, paper, glass, plastic and bio-waste into valuable resources.
  • Take part in a beach, park or street clean up. Get involved: there are probably clean-up efforts happening near you. If not, start one! Think creatively—the possibilities are endless!
  • Do not flush litter down the drain, much of it ends up in the ocean.
  • Helping to create cleaner streets, parks, forests, and beaches is a positive benefit for people and wildlife.
  • Spark a conversation about zero-waste living on social media.
  • Upgrade your apps! Find water-drinking stations using the Refill app or swap and find unwanted items on the Freecycle app on iOS and Android.

 

  • Reusable bottles and travel mugs in gift shop., Horniman Museum and Gardens
    , Horniman Museum and Gardens

  • Why not use reusable carry bags, totes or basket instead or the single-use plastic bag.
  • When you are out and about a reusable drinking bottle is long-lasting, refillable and so much more stylish. Our Gift Shop stocks a selection of reusable bottles, cups and tote bags.

 


Find out how we are working to become a more environmentally friendly organisation on our sustainability page.  Our #BeatPlasticPollution pop-up display is in the Aquarium until Thursday 1 August 2019.

About the Art: Sonia Levy

We spoke to artist Sonia Levy about her involvement in working with the Horniman on Project Coral and her upcoming film For the Love of Corals.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I am a French artist living in London. I studied fine art in France and later went on to follow a programme in Arts and Politics (SPEAP) at Sciences Po, a political science school in Paris. It furthered my approach of working across disciplines exploring the points of articulation between scientific and artistic fields to address societal issues.

Climate change is a consequence of our ways of perceiving the natural world as a resource to be endlessly extracted.

I am currently interested in how art might help redefine our relationship with the Earth. Livability on our planet is dependent on the presence of its many life forms. I think we are starting to see those new scientific understandings enacted in environmental conservation but we also need the arts to filter those paradigm-shifting ideas into our society and culture.

What is the film about?

For the Love of Corals is an artist film that follows Project Coral through the different stages involved in reproducing the corals behind-the-scenes at the Horniman.

It documents the daily labour of the team caring for these endangered beings as well as the corals themselves, encouraging attention to their intricacy. From spawning induced in lab-tanks replicating lunar and solar cycles, to the delicate IVF procedures, as well as the constant care required to keep the corals alive throughout their life cycle.

For the Love of Corals (2018) Trailer from Sonia Levy.

The film also includes shots of artefacts from the Horniman's collections, such as the 19th-century Anna Atkins’ Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions. The opening sequence of the film confronts images of Atkins’ seaweed cyanotypes to close-up shots of the corals.

  • Coral close-up and Anna Atkinsâ Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions, stills from Soni, Coral close-up and Anna Atkins, Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions, stills from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    Coral close-up and Anna Atkins, Photographs of British Algae Cyanotype Impressions, stills from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

Anna Ricciardi’s essay on Anna Atkins, written for Edward Chell's 2015 exhibition Bloom at the Horniman, really moved me. She says:

As we face an accelerating environmental crisis in this century, Atkins’ seaweed impressions surface with something like visionary timing, having slipped their privately-published moorings, to remind us about extinctions past and present, those erasures and absences yet to come.

It deeply resonated with an angle I wanted to take, a feminist approach to questioning the moment we find ourselves in. Climate change, ecological collapses: who are the most affected and vulnerable?

There is a growing sense of an interlaced precarity between humans and the other life forms with whom we share this planet. I think it might be crucial to develop a more inclusive sense of “we”.

A site like the Horniman Museum and Gardens, with its Natural History Gallery, is a powerful place to revisit our past, our ways of looking at and relating to nature.

It is also a compelling site to build and develop new connections as seen with the work of Project Coral.

  • Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. Photo: Obsidian Coast, Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Obsidian Coast
    Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Obsidian Coast

The soundtrack was made in collaboration with sound artist Jez Riley French and involved many recording techniques made on site.

We used hydrophones and underwater microphones to capture the sound of some of Project Coral’s critters. Contact microphones picked up the resonance of surfaces around the Museum and the laboratory tanks. They are able to capture vibrations through contact with solid objects.

Adapted geophones, used to transfer ground movement to sound, allowed us to record the vibrations of the complex machinery sustaining the corals’ life. Electromagnetic signals emanating from the laboratory equipment were also captured with coil pick up microphones.

Jez also captured the sound of the skeleton of a coral dissolving, alluding to ocean acidification. These recordings, as well as music from composer Georgia Rodgers, are all part of the soundtrack composed for the film.

I also created a large-scale tapestry made from cyanotypes on fabric, which is part of the film installation. Titled Atkins Blue the work is a direct reference to Anna Atkins, an acknowledgement to her contribution in the history of science and art.       

  • Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, with Atkins Blue, large-scale cyanotype on , Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, with Atkins Blue, large-scale cyanotype on fabric on the left, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden
    Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, with Atkins Blue, large-scale cyanotype on fabric on the left, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden

  • Details of Sonia Levy: Atkins Blue, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Details of Sonia Levy: Atkins Blue, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden
    Details of Sonia Levy: Atkins Blue, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Filip Tyden

  • Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018. , Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Obsidian Coast
    Installation view of Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, Obsidian Coast, 2018, Obsidian Coast

In conjunction with my exhibition, Obsidian Coast commissioned a reading list; We are All Bodies of Water, from scholar Astrida Neimanis.

What drew you to Project Coral?

I spent a spawning season with the team at Project Coral, through the invitation of Jamie Craggs. I was really fascinated by what they achieved.

To be the first in the world to successfully induce coral to spawn by recreating the environmental conditions of the Great Barrier Reef, as well as other locations like Singapore, in the basement of the Horniman, for me was a powerful and striking image.

Coral bleaching appears simultaneously as a sign of climate change, their death providing visual evidence of the rising of the sea temperature. As anthropologist Irus Braverman has put it, corals emerge as a 'catalyst for action'* for many activists, scientists and artists.

Corals are stunning entities and coral reefs are some of the most beautiful ecological assemblages on Earth. The corals’ ability to perplex the notion of individuality, the distinction between self and other. There is something interesting about the figure of the coral and its capacity to blur the boundaries between organism and environment, expressing this idea that we are environments for others, as well as not being separated from our environment.

I have also worked with Project Coral to produce a short film, viewable on site at the Horniman's Aquarium, as well as online. We worked with Jamie Craggs’ research footage to tell Project Coral's ongoing work and explain its workings. I wanted the visitors to catch a glimpse of this vital research happening behind-the-scenes.

What techniques did you use to document the coral?

Some of the most extraordinary ways of filming involved coral larvae shot through a microscope. The larvae are no bigger than 1mm and I could see the cilia, the hair-like organs that propel them.

  • Coral larvae, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Coral larvae, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    Coral larvae, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

We documented the coral in other ways, such as the use of macro lenses and under blue light (actinic light), which produced a beautiful result. When pointed at corals it makes the symbiotic algae living within their tissue fluoresce.

  • Fluorescing baby corals, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Fluorescing baby corals, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    Fluorescing baby corals, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

We also collaborated with Jamie to make microscope time lapses of coral embryos development, as well as egg-sperm bundle dissociation.

  • Coral embryos development time-lapse made in collaboration with Jamie Craggs, still from Sonia Levy:, Coral embryos development time-lapse made in collaboration with Jamie Craggs, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018., Sonia Levy
    Coral embryos development time-lapse made in collaboration with Jamie Craggs, still from Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018., Sonia Levy

What is your favourite moment from the film?

To film the juvenile corals I saw coming to life in 2017 as yearlings, but still no bigger than a thumbnail.

It was very moving for me to film them under blue light and see how they acquired their symbiotic algae. I also loved to plunge at the scale of those tiny corals and see the many critters and microorganisms living alongside them.

  • 1-year old coral born at the Horniman, still from film Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, 1-year old coral born at the Horniman, still from film Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy
    1-year old coral born at the Horniman, still from film Sonia Levy: For the Love of Corals, 2018, Sonia Levy

What is the next stage of this project and for you?

I am working with Obsidian Coast on a publication around the project, to be released in 2019. Additionally, I have a few screenings and exhibitions of the project planned in France, the US and Germany. But, what I am really interested in doing is to carrying on filming and progressing the project.

I would like to go to Florida where Project Coral is working in partnership with the Florida Aquarium Centre for Conservation. It would be really exciting to see how Project Coral’s methods are being used to help restore damaged reefs there.


For the Love of Corals is on view at Obsidian Coast, Bradford-on-Avon, until the 26 of January. For the Love of Corals was produced with the support of Obsidian Coast and Fluxus Art Projects. Sonia Levy wishes to thank Jamie Craggs, Project Coral team and the Horniman Museum and Gardens for their in-kind support.                                                               

 

* Irus Braverman (2018), Coral Whisperers: Scientists on the Brink,University of California Press.

Reef Encounters: Craig Humphrey

Craig Humphrey, Manager of the National Sea Simulator at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) tells us about the aims of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation program and his hopes for the future of The Great Barrier Reef.

What is your typical day?

I have one of the best jobs in the world. The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) headquarters’ is in Townsville, North Queensland right next to the Great Barrier Reef. I get to dive this incredible icon, participate in amazing research helping to ensure the health of tropical marine ecosystems, and manage the most sophisticated marine experimental aquarium facility in the world – the National Sea Simulator (SeaSim). All this as well as meeting dedicated, committed and brilliant people who are passionate about protecting marine environments around the world.

My typical day can be quite diverse and will generally involve many very different tasks. These might range from diving on the Great Barrier Reef (unfortunately far too infrequently nowadays) to sitting at my desk responding to email, working on budgets and making sure that the facility keeps running.

  • Craig Humphrey image, Craig Humphrey, Christian Miller
    Craig Humphrey, Christian Miller

Time spent in the field is mostly on-board AIMS’ 24m research vessel, the RV Cape Ferguson. I’ll spend up to a week at sea diving and snorkelling to collect reef organisms for experiments back in the SeaSim. Recently we collected a range of coral species for the annual coral spawning which will support vital research at AIMS.

I’m extremely lucky that through my job I not only get to work alongside AIMS scientists, but I get to meet a wide range of different people from around the world, discussing their research, passions and commitment to protecting our oceans. AIMS and the SeaSim attracts people from all over the globe. Some of the many amazing people I’ve met over the past years have included indigenous students, school students, an Australian Prime Minister, international royalty and my boyhood idol Sir David Attenborough. These are just a few of the people I get to share my passion for coral reefs with.

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

I grew up in a small country town in Southern Australia of around 200 people, more than 2000 km from the Great Barrier Reef, completely outnumbered by dairy cows and kangaroos. At 17, after high school, I was looking for a change of scenery and ended up at James Cook University, arguably one of the world’s leading universities for coral reef studies, where I fell in love with the reef.

What inspires you in your work?

  • Craig Humphrey image 2, Craig Humphrey and water tank, Christian Miller
    Craig Humphrey and water tank, Christian Miller

I’ve spent the greater part of my life living and working on the Great Barrier Reef and visiting reefs in other parts of the Pacific. I’m continually excited by the beauty, colour and diversity of the numerous animals and plants that make up coral reefs. I’m inspired by the idea that the work I’m involved in is helping to protect these ecosystems so that my children and future generations may get the chance to see the beauty of these reefs and experience the joy that I have been so privileged to experience in my working life.

What would your take-home message for the future of reefs be?

There are many threats facing the world's reefs today, of which climate change is the most significant. If we don’t start acting to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions now then the reefs that we know today will be irrevocably changed. There is still time but we need to act now.

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

  • Craig Humphrey image 5 - Hard Corals, Hard Coral, Craig Humphrey
    Hard Coral, Craig Humphrey

My favourite creature would be the hard corals which are the key reef-building organisms. This symbiosis between the coral host and microscopic algae continuously surprises me. In particular, their behaviour during the annual spawning event never ceases to amaze. How do these extremely simple organisms know how to synchronously release eggs and sperm at the same time across the whole breadth of the reef? Not only do they know what month and day, they also know what hour of the night. Each species of coral have a particular day and hour after the full moon in November to release eggs and sperm to ensure the survival of the next generation of corals.

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

  • Craig Humphrey image 3 - Sea Cucumber, Sea Cucumber, Craig Humphrey
    Sea Cucumber, Craig Humphrey

Early on in my career, I was swimming across the reef when I came across a sea cucumber standing straight up off the sand with what appeared to be smoke coming out of what might be considered its head. This was the first time I had come across the spawning behaviour of sea cucumbers.

What kit do you use?

  • Craig Humphrey image 4 - Underwater Camera, Craig Humphrey using an underwater camera
    Craig Humphrey using an underwater camera

Canon G16 in a Nauticam housing with two Sola 2500/1200 Light & Motion video lights. This provides a nice balance between functionality and compactness.

What’s the next big thing for your work?

AIMS is currently leading a consortium of organisations in developing a Reef Restoration and Adaptation program, in which SeaSim will play a significant role. This program aims to bring together leading experts from Australia and around the world to help preserve and restore the Great Barrier Reef. We’ll be continually looking at developing new systems and methods to assist in research around this theme. This may involve a significant increase in the capacity of the facility for which we’ve started the initial planning.

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

I guess it’s a bit of a cliché but Sir David Attenborough was my initial ‘reef hero’. For a boy growing up in rural Australia, the wonder of the reef (and many other wonderful ecosystems) bought to vibrant life in my living room by Sir David provided the beginning of a lifelong passion for nature. Since I started work as a marine biologist I developed an immense respect for researchers from around the world who have dedicated their lives to studying coral reefs in order to help preserve them for future generations.

HLF Big Thank You

  • Sea Nettle Jelly, Ludo Des Cognets
    , Ludo Des Cognets

We are delighted to be taking part in the Heritage Lottery Fund’s ‘Big Thank You’. Between 3 and 9 December you can enjoy free entry to our popular Aquarium on presentation of a National Lottery ticket or Scratchcard.

Find out more about the ‘Big Thank You

The Horniman Aquarium is home to fifteen different aquatic environments ranging from the British pond to the Amazonian rainforest. You can get up close with amazing animals including jellyfish, clown fish and poisonous frogs. You can also learn about Project Coral, the Horniman’s pioneering research into induced coral spawning.

Find out more about the Aquarium

T&Cs

  • One National Lottery ticket provides free entry for one adult to the Aquarium.
  • All National Lottery games qualify for free entry, including tickets from any National Lottery draw based game or National Lottery Scratchcard. Proof of ticket can be paper or digital.
  • Only one redemption per ticket is permitted.
  • The offer is valid Monday 3 – Sunday 9 December 2018 only, during usual Aquarium opening hours: 10.30am – 5.30pm (last entry 5pm)
  • A maximum of 20 free entries will be available each day.
  • National Lottery tickets must be presented at the Ticket Desk to be granted a complimentary ticket to the Aquarium.
  • Cannot be used in conjunction with Horniman Membership or any other offer including joint tickets with the Butterfly House.

Reef Encounters: Dr James Guest

Marine biologist, Dr James Guest, who works at Newcastle University, tells us about his work focusing on tropical reef research, understanding how reefs regenerate and recover.

What is your typical day?

Currently, I am the lead researcher on a five year project called CoralASSIST that aims to examine the feasibility of an approach called coral assisted gene flow. I am interested to know whether it is really possible to seed areas of reef with corals that are more tolerant to thermal stress and what risks and trade-offs are involved.

My time is split between the office and the field. In the office, my day involves writing papers and grant proposals, discussing and designing experiments, ordering equipment and materials and all the mundane stuff involved in running a research project (this probably takes up 70% of my time).

The rest of the time is spent in the field - this is the fun part of my job - as it involves diving and snorkelling on reefs to set up experiments, or doing experiments in aquarium tanks, collecting coral spawn, rearing coral larvae and monitoring the results of long term studies.  

  • Brain coral, Brain coral underwater, Pixabay CC.0
    Brain coral underwater, Pixabay CC.0

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area?

I went snorkelling on holiday in Croatia when I was about 8 or 9, then I learned to dive in England when I was 17. I became completely hooked on diving from that age.

I then got a job as a photographer on a ship and I started diving on reefs in the Caribbean and taking underwater pictures. Eventually I returned to the UK and took my degree in marine biology at Newcastle University, an institution that has a long tradition of doing work on tropical coral reefs.

I was particularly fascinated by corals because they are really simple organisms, but they build these amazing, diverse and beautiful ecosystems. During my summer holidays at University I went to Central America to survey coral reefs and that was really my first step into the world of coral reef research.

What inspires you in your work?

The scientific process and finding out things about the how the world works.

What would your take-home message for the future of reefs be?

Well, things look very bad for reefs and much has been lost for ever.

There is still time to turn things around, but there has to be more action now if we want to conserve coral reefs in the future.

This has to start with further reducing greenhouse gas emissions in tandem with much better local management. There may also be some innovative techniques we could try to help corals adapt, but much research is still needed before they can be applied. 

  • Reef squid, Reef squid, Betty Wills (Atsme) Wikimedia Commons License CC-BY-SA-4.0
    Reef squid, Betty Wills (Atsme) Wikimedia Commons License CC-BY-SA-4.0

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

I am particularly fond of a genus of coral called Goniopora. They have these beautiful swaying polyps that are always extended during the day. But I also love reef squid because of their amazing ability to use colour change to communicate with one and another and to camouflage themselves.

  • Goniopora, Goniopora, Peter Young Cho MD, Wikipedia Creative Commons CC-BY-3.0
    Goniopora, Peter Young Cho MD, Wikipedia Creative Commons CC-BY-3.0

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

I once found a large metal combination lock safe sitting on a reef in Singapore, the type you would find in a bank. It was too heavy to lift and bring back to the boat. I wonder if it was full of money...I will never know!?

What photography kit do you use?

For work, currently I'm a fan of the Olympus Tough TG-5. It's an amazing workhorse camera and is not too bulky. 

What's the next big thing for your work?

Trying to establish whether it really is feasible to breed corals that are more resistant to higher thermal stress. If we can, then we need to see if these traits are heritable and whether lab reared corals can really be seeded to reefs at large enough scales to have a meaningful impact in terms of mitigating the impact of climate change.

Who's your 'reef hero' - someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

There's no one person in particular, but I have a lot of respect for people around the world who work directly with local communities (often with little or no funding) to continually raise awareness about the importance of nature conservation.  

Reef Encounters: Laura Puk

This month as part of our Reef Encounters series we spoke to Laura Puk, a PhD student at the University of Queensland, who is researching how damaging microalgae are spreading across coral reefs.

What is your typical day?

That depends a lot on whether I am in the field or working in the office. When I’m in the field - which can often be for weeks or months at a time - we’re often out on the water for the better part of the day. After coming back home, we need to clean our dive equipment, take care of samples, input the collected data, or work on all the pictures taken.

When I’m in the office my day is very different and much more computer-based. I either work on the data collected during my field trip, read papers, write, or do all the little things that come up on the side.

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

I’ve wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I can remember. My interest in coral reef research began when I took a gap year after my undergraduate degree and helped monitor coral reefs in Madagascar.

  • Laura Puk 01, "I've wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I can remember."
    "I've wanted to be a marine biologist for as long as I can remember."

What inspires you in your work? 

The unbelievable diversity of life and intricate interactions between marine organisms. There’s still so much to discover.

What would your message for the future of reefs be?

I think coral reefs have a chance if we don’t lose hope and act now. Coral reefs are in grave danger and the coral reefs of the future may look different to what we know. However, if everyone puts in an effort we may be able to preserve these incredible ecosystems and the services they provide to people. 

  • Laura Puk 02, "I think coral reefs have a chance if we don't lose hope and act now."
    "I think coral reefs have a chance if we don't lose hope and act now."

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

That’s a difficult one. I sort of have a soft spot for rabbitfish, probably because of their ability to feed on algae and because rabbitfish pairs look out for each other.

  • Rabbitfish, "rabbitfish pairs look out for each other", Leonard Low/CCBY2.0
    "rabbitfish pairs look out for each other", Leonard Low/CCBY2.0

Sharks also still get me. When I first see them my heart rate goes up, but when you watch them calmly swimming along, it’s oddly relaxing.

What kit do you use?

Until recently I used a Sony RX 100 with an underwater housing, but I just got a housing for my Olympus om-d e-m 5 and am super excited to start playing around with it.

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

I actually don’t have a proper ‘reef hero’. I admire Jane Goodall, even though she’s worked on chimpanzees not coral reefs. She went to Africa in the 1950s and 1960s as a young woman to become a scientist in a society where that wasn’t an easy journey to make. Since then she’s worked for decades to promote conservation in every field and inspired thousands and thousands of people around the world.

Reef Encounters: Dr Dirk Petersen

For the latest installment of our Reef Encounters series, we spoke to Dr. Dirk Petersen, the founder and Executive Director of SECORE International, a leading nonprofit organisation bringing like-minded people and organisations together to give coral reefs a future. 

What is your typical day?

Unless I am on a field trip, I am spending most of my day at the laptop in my office in Bremen with correspondence and conference calls.

Calls to Australia and the Pacific region are in the morning, those to the USA and the Atlantic region are in the afternoon and sometimes in the evening. I'll spend a lot of times addressing all kinds of budgets, policies, and research and education programmes.

During my travels, I visit our office in Miami, meet with partners and funders or simply enjoy a dive with our staff at one of our field sites. Keeping involved in the underwater work means a lot to me, even if it is just joining the collection of coral gametes during a night dive or exploring one of our research or restoration dive sites.

  • Dr Dirk Petersen, "Keeping involved in the underwater work means a lot to me even if it is just joining the collection of coral gametes during a night dive", Dr. Dirk Petersen, (C) Paul Selvaggio
    "Keeping involved in the underwater work means a lot to me even if it is just joining the collection of coral gametes during a night dive", Dr. Dirk Petersen, (C) Paul Selvaggio

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

While studying for my Masters in Biology at Munich, I got the opportunity to work with coral larvae in an aquarium environment. These little critters were absolutely fascinating to me and a great inspiration to start exploring sexual coral reproduction.

When I did my PhD at the University of Duisburg-Essen I worked at the marine laboratory at the Rotterdam Zoo where I was maintaining aquarium systems to develop coral breeding techniques. From the beginning, I had the idea to share my findings with colleagues in the science and aquarium field.

I believed that bringing together scientists and aquarists would be very beneficial to advance coral restoration.

What inspires you in your work?

Ever since I dived for the first time in a coral reef, this wonderful underwater world has captured my imagination.

Corals are a miracle, especially when it comes to sexual reproduction. I was fascinated to manipulate reproduction, for example, to be able to control coral larval settlement within a microhabitat scale of a few millimeters, which would determine survival or death of a coral recruit.

I think my greatest inspiration is taking novel directions, putting an idea into action and joining forces with others to face big challenges. This has led to some amazing breakthroughs in the past that outsiders did not believe we would accomplish, but we did as a group.

I have been fortunate enough to work together with some of the greatest minds in the aquarium and science community, a team that will keep on going until the problem is solved.   

  • Dr Dirk Petersen 02, "Ever since I dived for the first time in a coral reef this wonderful underwater world has captured my imagination.", Dr. Dirk Petersen, (C) Vanessa Cara-Kerr
    "Ever since I dived for the first time in a coral reef this wonderful underwater world has captured my imagination.", Dr. Dirk Petersen, (C) Vanessa Cara-Kerr

What would your message for the future of reefs be?

Coral restoration could eventually be as commonly and effectively applied as reforestation has been applied for centuries. Restoration will change the landscape of reefs as it has done with forests.

Future reefs will look different to today’s reefs, which doesn’t really matter as long as they provide similar ecological and economic services. Nonetheless, coral restoration can only buy us some time. Time that we must use to solve the greatest challenge of all time – climate change.

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

Corals, of course, the most beautiful, diverse and magical organisms on our planet.

My favorite coral is the elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata). With its brownish branches, it is not one of those fancy, colorful coral species, but it makes a powerful stand against massive waves and storms where other corals would not have any chance to resist. Just this species alone absorbs more than 90% of wave energy, which would otherwise crush the coast, and creates shelter for many other species.

At the same time, the elkhorn coral is definitely the most fragile coral species I have ever worked with. If you touch it, you will spot your fingerprints the next day because the coral’s tissue will have died.

  • Dr Dirk Petersen 03, Dr. Petersen inspecting some of his favourite type of coral, the elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), (C) Paul Selvaggio
    Dr. Petersen inspecting some of his favourite type of coral, the elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), (C) Paul Selvaggio

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

During a scouting trip for a new field location in Guam, I saw some beer cans rolling around in the sand between corals. A few metres further we discovered a huge field of beer cans that were lying on the ground.

Fortunately, those cans were removed in a large clean-up a few weeks later by Underwater World, the University of Guam, and local dive schools.

What’s the next big thing for your work?

The Global Coral Restoration Project that we have launched last year together with the California Academy of Sciences and The Nature Conservancy is for sure the next big thing.

The project involves many partners and we are looking for more to join in the coming years. The goal is to develop and implement novel technologies that will allow restoration at a significantly larger scale than currently possible.

  • Dr Dirk Petersen 04, "My reef heroes are all those out of the spotlight who are teaching children about the beauty and vulnerability of coral reefs", Dr. Dirk Petersen, (C) Paul Selvaggio
    "My reef heroes are all those out of the spotlight who are teaching children about the beauty and vulnerability of coral reefs", Dr. Dirk Petersen, (C) Paul Selvaggio

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

My reef heroes are all those out of the spotlight who are teaching children about the beauty and vulnerability of coral reefs, and how small daily habits can make a big difference to the environment.

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.

Reef Encounters: Dr. Laurie Raymundo

As part of International Year of the Reef, we're speaking to people who work with coral reefs, from filmmakers to fish taxonomists. Dr. Laurie Raymundo is a Professor of Marine Biology at the University of Guam, she told us about saving coral reefs and seeing a humpback whale "poop".

What is your typical day?

I spend quite a bit of time in front of my computer writing and analysing data, and much of the rest of the time is spent in the water on my research projects. I also do a bit of teaching here and there and, of course, I spend time mentoring my students, either via meetings in my lab or out in the water, teaching them the skills they will need to accomplish their thesis projects around the world.

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

When I was 11, I was snorkeling in the Philippines where I grew up, on Apo Island, before it was a Marine Protected Area.

My father was diving at the time. Even though I’d been snorkeling since I was six, that particular day was absolutely mesmerising underwater.

I was so caught up with what I was seeing that I ended up with the worst sunburn of my life but it was a pivotal event that I didn’t realise until much later would drive me to want to work in those systems for the rest of my life.

  • LJR UW by Cie, a photo taken of me by my son-in-law on Gabgab reef, Apra Harbor, Guam, watching a late afternoon spawning aggregation., Dr Laurie Raymundo
    a photo taken of me by my son-in-law on Gabgab reef, Apra Harbor, Guam, watching a late afternoon spawning aggregation., Dr Laurie Raymundo

What inspires you in your work?

The innate beauty of coral reefs keeps me going. The wanton destruction that the human species casually subjects these systems to is a difficult reality to cope with.

What would your message for the future of reefs be?

We must reduce CO2 emissions on a global scale. While I suspect corals and reefs are more resilient than we give them credit for, we have already lost much. If we can make this global effort, it will have lasting positive repercussions on many systems, including our own.

That is worth doing.

  • LJR, Taken in the Philippines, surveying for disease, Dr Laurie Raymundo
    Taken in the Philippines, surveying for disease, Dr Laurie Raymundo

What is your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

Do you mean aside from corals? My favorite coral is Galaxea archelia, which I find particularly beautiful.

Aside from corals, I’m really fond of cuttlefish of all kinds. They are so much fun to watch and play with because they are so intelligent and curious. They’re just seriously cool animals.

  • Galaxea_acrhelia, Galaxea archelia, CC BY 4.0: Michelle Jonker
    Galaxea archelia, CC BY 4.0: Michelle Jonker

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

That’s a hard one. My students and I usually vie to see the coolest thing, which can sometimes be very odd.

Among my favorites would be seeing a humpback whale poop alongside our boat. My daughter was three years old at the time we saw this, so that was a really big thing for her.

Seeing guitarfish off Heron Island in Australia was also odd because guitarfish are odd.

  • Giant_guitarfish_georgia, The Guitarfish (right) is a type of ray found in warm waters., CC BY-SA 2.0: John LaPierre
    The Guitarfish (right) is a type of ray found in warm waters., CC BY-SA 2.0: John LaPierre

What’s the next big thing for your work?

Climate change-induced coral bleaching has really devastated reefs in Micronesia, where I live and work now.

My lab has begun focusing on coral propagation, culture, and restoration work for certain key species that we feel are vital to the future of Guam’s reefs. So, that is what I will continue to focus on into the foreseeable future.

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

There are so many great people doing incredible work.

I think it would have to be the fisherman on the island of Gilutangan in the Philippines, who was head of their Bantay Dagat (Watchers of the Sea) organisation.

These organisations are set up in coastal villages all throughout the country, for the purpose of protecting community-organised Marine Protected Areas.

The fisherman told us stories about how, when the MPA was first being established, his wife would yell at him about why he was giving up fishing grounds when he had a family to feed, but he understood why they needed the MPA, why they needed to control their fishing and allow a part of the reef to be protected and unfished. He was thinking about his children, about tomorrow, about the fact that he could no longer catch big fish.

A few years later, a local politician was trying to take over their MPA so he could build a resort on that island and push out the fishers and open the MPA. It was totally illegal, but he was more powerful than the fishers were. I don’t know what happened after that. I hope the fishermen won.

  • Methods_working on nursery, myself, students, and volunteers doing basic maintenance and assessment on nursery corals, Dr Laurie Raymundo
    myself, students, and volunteers doing basic maintenance and assessment on nursery corals, Dr Laurie Raymundo

Jellyfish husbandry and coral fragging

For volunteers week we spoke to our former Aquarium volunteer, Sophie, about how her experience has helped her forge her own career.

My name is Sophie Palmer and I am a former volunteer at the Horniman Museum and Gardens. I spent a number of years volunteering once a week in the Aquarium working with Jamie Craggs the Aquarium Curator. When I started, Project Coral had not been set up but the Aquarium still housed an impressive coral display.

On my first day, Jamie and James Robson, the former Deputy Curator, walked me through the various stages of jellyfish husbandry, which would become one of my duties over the next few years. I was also taught how to maintain various tanks and displays and specific feeding practices.

In the early days of my volunteering, I was shown husbandry techniques of various animals including tree and dart frogs, giant clams, flamboyant cuttlefish, corals, and of course jellyfish. These practices required a variety of skills, such as maintaining habitats, observing animal behaviour, experimenting with different diets, reading research papers, counting eggs, and fragging (making cuttings of) coral for further growth and research.

It was an exciting time to be working at the Aquarium. Project Coral was set up and as it started to build momentum and gain recognition, the Aquarium acquired sophisticated equipment to maintain the corals, and I was learning more about water chemistry and how the new equipment worked.

Jem, one of the aquarists, showed me how to maintain the live food that was fed to the animals at the Aquarium. These included different types of algae, Artemia, and Mysis.

Michelle Davis, the new Deputy Curator, started to involve me in jellyfish husbandry in more depth and suggested I attend a weekend workshop run at The Deep in Hull. This gave me the opportunity to learn more about breeding and maintaining jellyfish as well as networking with other jellyfish enthusiasts.

In 2017, two new aquarists started at the aquarium - Chris, who has a strong background in pathology, and Chloe, who is now revamping the flamboyant cuttlefish breeding programme. Having Chris and Chloe there in the last few months of my time volunteering proved invaluable as I was able to shadow two extremely knowledgeable aquarists.

I loved my time volunteering at the Aquarium. It helped me onto the path of a fantastic new career - I now work at an aquarium and seal sanctuary in Northern Ireland - and the team there are really enthusiastic and happy to teach. There is no lack of passion at this Aquarium and it makes all the hard work you put in worth the effort.

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