[Coral-List] how to communicate a commonality with corals

Hilary Lohmann hilary.lohmann at gmail.com
Wed Mar 1 08:02:41 EST 2017

Hi all,

I want to share part of the transcript of an interview I heard recently.
The Podcast 'On Being' is hosted by Krista Tippet and often played on NPR,
National Public Radio. On Feb 16, the guest was Margaret Wertheim of the
Institute for Figuring in Los Angeles, CA. She was discussing a community
crochet project that participants realized looked like a coral reef. Her
thoughts on coral reefs are below.

I think her words are a very wonderful way of framing the significance of
the decline of reefs and perhaps offer a clue about how the story of reefs
can relate to people at large.

"MS. WERTHEIM: And they’re sort of nature’s fancy work is the way we like
to think of it. And when you get hundreds or thousands of them together,
you can form them into vast coralean landscapes. And we — Chrissy and I
started the project in 2005, about the time when scientists were beginning
to realize that coral reefs around the world were being devastated by
global warming.

And we grew up in the state of Queensland, Australia, which is where the
Great Barrier Reef is. And we joked to ourselves at the time that if the
Great Barrier Reef ever died out, our crochet reef would be something to
remember it by. In 2005, that was a joke. Just this week, NOA scientists
have released a report warning that this year may be the worst coral
bleaching and die-off in the history of humanity. And scientists are
talking about the very real possibility that coral reefs might actually die
out if we don’t stop putting so much CO2 into the atmosphere.

MS. TIPPETT: Last week, I was with Mary Oliver, the poet, who doesn’t give
interviews very much. And she talked a little bit about how distressed she
is at the state of the Earth. And of course, it’s hard to hear that from
Mary Oliver because so much of her poetry is about the beauty and grandeur
and mystery of the natural world. And she said, “Other people write about
that distress and what’s going wrong. But I’ve chosen for my contribution
to be just making people aware of the beauty of it.”

And I was thinking about that when I was thinking about this project
because this is also a different approach to science communication because
we do get these devastating news reports. And it seems to me that you are
actually bringing people into some kind of contact with the notion of coral
reefs as embodied and vividly beautiful.

MS. WERTHEIM: One of the things about the reef project that I feel is
important is that it’s a constructive response to a devastating problem. I
think most people, as I am, are completely freaked out about the problem of
global warming. What can we do? Can we do anything?

And the reef project — the Crochet Coral Reef project is a metaphor, and it
goes like this: if you look at real corals, a head of coral is built by
thousands of individual coral polyps working together. Each coral polyp is
a tiny insignificant little critter with almost no power of its own. But
when billions of coral polyps come together, they can build the Great
Barrier Reef, the largest living thing on earth and the first living thing
that you can see from outer space.

The Crochet Coral Reef is a human analog of that. These huge coral reef
installations that we build with communities are built by hundreds and
sometimes thousands of people working together. So the project capitulates,
in human action, the power and greatness of what corals themselves are
doing. And I think the metaphor of the project is, “Look what we can do
together.” We humans, each of us are like a coral polyp. Individually,
we’re insignificant and probably powerless. But together, I believe we can
do things. And I think the metaphor of the project is we are all corals
now. We are all at risk."

The full transcript and interview can be found here:

Hilary Lohmann
NOAA Coral Management Fellow, USVI
Project Coordinator, Friends of St. Croix East End Marine Park

"Conservation is primarily not about biology, but about people and the
choices they make." Balmford & Cowling, 2006

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