Upcoming exhibition, Spring 2020

BLEACHED. THE ART OF CORAL SCIENCE

Coral bleaching science: Creating a new dialogue through the arts

This exhibition is an exciting exploration of “coral reefs” and the threats to the survival of these iconic ecosystems through a collaboration of art and science.

 

The members of Vulgar Earth and some invited artists will explore the key scientific messages in creative, challenging and innovative ways to engage, inform and to stimulate debate and action with a diverse audience.

 

The key messages are:

 

  • Water quality, specifically the nutrient availability, and coral bleaching are linked.

  • Maintaining best possible reef water quality needs to underpin the global action against climate change to save coral reefs.

  • An increased production of colourful coral pigments can indicate stressful environmental conditions that lead to coral bleaching. 

 

Watch this space for more information about the scientific research, the artistic response and how you can be involved/make a difference.

PROJECT OVERVIEW

The science by Dr. Cecilia D’Angelo and Prof. Jörg Wiedenmann of the Coral Reef Laboratory at the University of Southampton that has inspired the art collaboration explains mechanisms that lead to coral bleaching and the role of coral colours this process. 

"Our research at the Coral Reef Laboratory at the University of Southampton that has inspired the present art collaboration explains mechanisms that lead to coral bleaching and the role of coral colours in this process. 

 

Our work explains how disturbing natural levels of nutrients in the water column can reduce the capacity of corals to resist coral bleaching caused by elevated summer temperatures. We conclude that the necessary global action against climate change required to save coral reefs needs to be underpinned by maintaining the best possible water quality. 

 

Glowing proteins produced by the corals are responsible for many of the stunning colours of reefs. We have introduced some of them as versatile imaging tools in medical research. Our research suggests that in the reef environment, these pigments optimise the light climate inside the coral host for the benefit of the symbiont algae. An increased production of these pigments can signal stressful environmental conditions that lead to coral bleaching."

THE SCIENCE BEHIND 

THE ART

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Key message 1: Water quality, specifically the nutrient availability, and coral bleaching are linked

Recent research by Cecilia and Jörg explains how disturbing natural levels of dissolved nutrients in the water column can reduced the capacity of corals to resist coral bleaching caused by elevated summer temperatures. These insights open up new opportunities to optimise environmental monitoring programs and render them more efficient to predict and pinpoint water conditions that endanger coral reefs. 

Key message 2: Maintaining best possible reef water quality needs to underpin the global action against climate change to save coral reefs.

The advanced understanding of the mechanisms underlying coral reef stress tolerance provided by the research of Cecilia and Jörg can help to develop management strategies that can support reef resilience. Specifically, the research explains how the enrichment of coral reef waters with dissolved inorganic nitrogen through compounds such as nitrate is detrimental to coral health and heat tolerance. Avoiding nutrient enrichment of coral reef waters by preventing agricultural run-off, urban sewage influx and deforestation can support coral tolerance to bleaching.

Key message 3: An increased production of colourful coral pigments can indicate stressful environmental conditions that lead to coral bleaching.

Glowing proteins produced by the corals are responsible for many of the stunning colours of reefs. Cecilia and Jörg have introduced some of them as versatile imaging tools in medical research. Their research suggests that in the reef environment, these pigments protect the symbiont algae from excess sunlight in shallow water. In deeper water they promote the productivity of the symbiont algae by distributing the light more evenly within the coral. An increased production of these pigments can signal stressful environmental conditions that lead to coral bleaching.