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But the reef is intended to be educational as well. According to some estimates, rising carbon dioxide levels, which cause ocean warming and acidification, could wipe out most coral reefs by 2050.
To call attention to the rising danger, the project also features a bleached reef made of pale and neutral yarns and fibers. In contrast with the brightly colored reef, the pale version represents coral subjected to rising water temperatures, which provoke a stress response in the coral that drains its vibrant color and leads to starvation.
“Anything we can do to bring attention to the beauty and wonder of the reefs and their need for protection is important,” said Nancy Knowlton, the National Museum of Natural History’s Sant Chair for Marine Science. “We do have to act if we want reefs to be there for our children. ”
The project fuses science, art, mathematics, environmentalism and community. “Some people initially thought it was a crazy idea,” Knowlton said. “But I don’t think we have any non-converts left.”
“We tend to think of science and art as being really different,” said Jane Milosch, director of the Smithsonian’s Provenance Research Initiative. “But artists work much more empirically than you might imagine, and scientists are much more intuitive in their work than one would imagine — both use observation and research in their discovery process.”
The coral reef exhibition is open through April 24. Margaret Wertheim will speak about community art in conjunction with the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef at the museum on March 12, and the museum will sponsor a Family Day on April 16.