Month: November 2013

Coral: Something Rich and Strange (and also in crochet!)

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Photo: Josh Nolan
Coral on display in the new exhibition

Tonight sees the opening of our latest exhibtion ‘Coral: Something Rich and Strange’ which shows beautiful natural history specimens of coral alongside amazing works of art.

At the front of the exhibition is a crochet coral reef; a satellite from the reef of the Institute for Figuring in California. The reef includes a few pieces created by curatorial staff and volunteers, who may not have fully mastered the art of crochet, but who can now make curly hyperbolic shapes. This reef will grow over the course of the exhibition (which runs until the 16th March 2014) and so there’s plenty of time to join in if you’re interested in promoting coral reef consevation or fancy trying your hand at crochet. The reef also features an area of coral bleaching.

Photo Josh Nolan
The Manchester Satellite Reef

Although reef-building corals are animals, they often have a partner – microscopic, single-celled algae known as zooxanthellae (specifically dinoflagellates in the genus Symbiodinium). The coral povides protection and the zooxanthellae collect energy from the sun by photosynthesis to produce sugars. This sort of life-style is similar to that of the symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae in lichens.

From Wikipedia: Bleached branching coral
From Wikipedia: Bleached branching coral

Coral bleaching happens when a coral becomes stressed (e.g. through rising sea temperatures, pollution or high UV) and can expels the algae. As corals are mostly transparent, losing the brown-coloured symbiotic algae reveals the (often) white calcium carbonate structure. As the algae produce sugars which can feed the corals, this bleaching can quickly cause starvation making the corals suceptible to disease and causing the death of patches of the reef.

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Palaeo Manchester

Our Visitor Services staff have put together a brand new Nature’s Library guide.

It brings together the information about the amazing specimens on display with images of the cases. It is a great resource to either use whilst you are on the gallery or to take away.

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Seaweeds Online

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The Natural History Museum after dark
The Natural History Museum after dark

Recently I was lucky enough to go to the Natural History Museum in London for the launch of their Seaweed Collections Online. Jane Pottas and Jo Wilbraham have spent the last year collecting images and information from 14 different institutions aiming to make seaweed data from regional herbariums more accessible (see the RBGE write-up here).

Seaweed Collections Online front page
Seaweed Collections Online front page

The team selected aound 150 different species of seaweed from the c.650 species found around the UK. Species were selected for reasons such as their conservation status (rarity), if they provide an ecosystem service (such as an important habitat) or if their distribution is changing (perhaps through environmental change).

Peacocks tail
Padina pavonica
Green sponge ball
Codium bursa

   430 images of specimens of seaweeds which were collected between the 1840s and 1964 were photographed from the Manchester Museum collection for the project and are now available through the online catalogue.

Bonnemaison's Hook Weed
Bonnemaisonia hamifera
Laminaria digitata
Laminaria digitata


Colour change

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The same specimen: the first in 2001, the second today (2013).  See how the leaf colour has faded from green to brown! Image  Image