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Crochet Coral Reef project by Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring, 2005-ongoing. Photo © Institute For Figuring

Crochet Coral Reef project by Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring, 2005-ongoing. Photo © Institute For Figuring

Crocheted Coral Reefs Raise Awareness of Real Reefs' Destruction

Crochet Coral Reef project by Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring, 2005-ongoing. Photo © Institute For Figuring

Crochet Coral Reef project by Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring, 2005-ongoing. Photo © Institute For Figuring

From now until January 22, the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York will take visitors underwater. Not in the literal sense—the museum will be drowning in expertly crocheted sea life as part of its Crochet Coral Reef: Toxic Seas exhibit. The showcases the work of sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim, who started the Crochet Coral Reef project in 2005 in collaboration with the Institute for Figuring, a non-profit that melds science and math with art.

The Wertheims started their fiber reef when they learned pollution and global warming may soon completely destroy the Great Barrier Reef in their home country of Australia. Over the next few years of crocheting, the replica reef took over their home. Soon, they encouraged others to join in, making it one of the largest community art projects in the world. Since its inception, the project has grown to include around 8000 participants.

Anyone can start creating a satellite reef out of anything that can be crocheted (like wire, yarn, or even strips of fabric). But to have it be an official satellite reef, interested crocheters need to contact the Institute for Figuring, which will ask for a fee based on a sliding scale to help pay for the satellite reef’s community outreach and workshops.

Each fiber reef is created according to the principles of hyperbolic crochet, a process that uses a geometric formula to create mathematically pure crocheted shapes. The beauty of hyperbolic crochet lies in its simplicity; it’s basically just repeating one process over and over again. The initial pattern for beginners is a hyperbolic plane, a series of single crochets and increases—a base chain of any number, followed by single crochets with an increase at set intervals. The finished product is a sheet of cloth with wavy edges that curl in among themselves.

CrochetCoral Reef project by Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring, 2005-ongoing. Photo © Institute For Figuring

 
To make other coral types, each crocheter slightly alters the pattern by changing the increase intervals, adding in other stitch types, or otherwise altering the base chain to produce an endless amount of reef-life forms—replicating the math inherent in live reefs. Reefs in the wild are often created with naturally occurring hyperbolic geometry, which packs as much surface area into a small space as possible, creating a surface similar to the human brain’s folded appearance.

“It turns out that hyperbolic structures are very common in nature, and the place where lots of people encounter them is coral reefs,” Margaret Wertheim told Guernica in an interview last year. “Sea slugs, and a lot of other organisms with frilly forms, are biological manifestations of hyperbolic geometry.” Coral pieces can be crocheted flat, in a round, or starting from a single point to create a spiraled shape. Every piece will form differently depending on the algorithm, gauge, and yarn.

In addition to shedding light on the issues facing coral reefs today and practicing applied mathematics, the Crochet Coral Reef is also breaking gender boundaries in the science world. Most of the Crochet Reefers are women, while men are generally over-represented in STEM disciplines. That said, the majority of the Crochet Coral Reef’s funding comes not from scientific foundations but from the art world. As Wertheim told Guernica, traditional science funders generally are uninterested in the project. At one point, a senior program office told her that he’d “find it hard to convince [his] board that there is any real science in a bunch of women knitting.”

But although she likes to crochet, Wertheim is also a physicist and science writer; one of her personal goals is to increase female participation in the sciences. That’s also one of her goals with the Crochet Reef Project.

“The Crochet Coral Reef project offers a kind of feminist metaphor for how we might approach the problems of global warming through collective action,” she said in the interview. “Rather than relying on a few individual geniuses inventing some technological solution, let’s try and think about this together.”

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Tre' Packard
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Art
Artists Transform the Polar Bear Capital of the World Into Massive Mural Gallery
Tre' Packard
Tre' Packard

The freezing village of Churchill, Manitoba has just gotten a whole lot brighter. Sixteen “artivists” recently descended on the self-titled Polar Bear Capital of the World, leaving behind beautiful murals with a meaningful message.

The Sea Walls: Artists for Oceans initiative is an international art project by the nonprofit PangeaSeed Foundation, which melds culture and environmental activism to increase public interest in saving our oceans. From 2014 to 2017, the program sponsored more than 300 murals in 12 countries by 200-plus artists from around the world.

Churchill’s Sea Walls were created in collaboration with the Polar Bear Fund (PBF), a nonprofit that supports innovative projects to raise awareness about the polar bears’ plight.

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Spending more than 80 percent of their time in the water, polar bears are technically sea creatures, PBF founder Kal Barteski said in a statement.

“Polar bears are directly affected by the unprecedented melting of sea ice and subsequent habitat destruction at an alarming rate, resulting in a big challenge for the species to survive.”

Polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Artist painting a polar bear mural on the side of a building.

Tre’ Packard is the founder and executive director of PangeaSeed. “Public art and activism can educate and inspire the global community to help save our seas,” he said.

“Regardless of your location – large metropolitan city or small seaside village like Churchill – the ocean supplies us with every second breath we take and life on Earth cannot exist without healthy oceans.”

All images courtesy of Tre’ Packard. Artists, top to bottom: Kal Barteski, Arlin, Dulk, Jason Botkin, and Charles Johnston.

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Animals
Harry Potter Has Created a Huge Black Market for Owls in Indonesia
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iStock

There are many fantastical things in the Harry Potter world you can’t have. Teleportation. Invisibility. A weird tween’s ghost hanging out in your school bathroom. If you know where to look, though, you can buy yourself a pet owl like Hedwig. And that’s not a great thing for the owls.

In Indonesia, researchers believe that the popularity of the Harry Potter franchise is leading to a significant uptick in black-market owl trading, Nature reports.

A new study in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation examined the number of owl sales in 20 bird markets on the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java, where wild-caught birds are sold as pets. In the early 2000s, owls were rare in these markets, but now, more owls from a variety of species are available to buy, spelling bad news for bird conservation. (The first Indonesian translation of Harry Potter came out in 2000, and the first film was released in 2001.) In larger bird markets, there might be 30 to 60 owls representing as many as eight species available at once, according to the study. Owls made up less than 0.06 percent of the birds in Indonesian bird markets before 2002, but after 2008, they were 0.43 percent of the market.

While there could be other reasons for the increase in demand for owls as pets, such as greater internet access allowing people to trade info on where to get the birds, the world’s most famous boy wizard surely shares some of the blame. Look no further than the birds' popular name: "Harry Potter birds." They used to be known as "ghost birds," the researchers write.

Technically, selling wild-caught owls is illegal, but the law isn’t well enforced. Indonesia doesn’t monitor its native owl population, so it's hard to pin down exactly how this is affecting the numbers of wild owls in the region. But typically, nothing good comes of large numbers of wild birds being sold as pets, especially when they're kept in sub-par conditions. The paper's authors recommend that owls be placed on the country's protected species list, with better education for both bird traders and the public on the illegality of buying and selling owls caught in the wild. Maybe a "Save Hedwig" campaign is in order.

[h/t Nature]

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