Coral Reef NOAA
May 29, 2016  

Crochet Coral Reef Exhibit at Smithsonian Sant Ocean Hall

image of crochet coral from the Smithsonian Community Reef exhibit.  The 'coral' in shades of white depicts dead coral and more colorful examples on the photo edges depict living coral.  All individual 'corals' shown contain hyperbolic shapes.
A portion of the Smithsonian Community Reef at the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef currently on exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History Sant Ocean Hall; this portion of the exhibit depicts dead reef surrounded by living reef. Photo credit: Michele Winowitch

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The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef (HCCR) is a project by the Institute For Figuring (IFF) in Los Angeles. The HCCR resides at the intersection of mathematics, marine biology, handicraft and community art practice, and also responds to the environmental crisis of global warming and the escalating problem of oceanic plastic trash. The inspiration for making crochet reef forms begins with the technique of "hyperbolic crochet" discovered in 1997 by Cornell University mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina. Sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim of the IFF adopted Dr Taimina's techniques and elaborated upon them to develop a whole taxonomy of reef-life forms. Loopy "kelps", fringed "anemones", crenelated "sea slugs", and curlicued "corals" have all been modeled with these methods. The basic process for making these forms is a simple pattern or algorithm, which on its own produces a mathematically pure shape, but by varying or mutating this algorithm, endless variations and permutations of shape and form can be produced. The resulting HCCR is exhibited around the world in art galleries and science museums.

This exhibit is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Sant Ocean Hall in Washington, DC. The exhibit opened on October 16, 2010 and will remain until April 24, 2011.

In addition to the "Core Collection" of HCCR made under the direction of the IFF, the project entails a growing collection of "Satellite Reefs" made by local communities in cities and countries around the world. These reefs are made in the months leading up to an exhibition of the HCCR and are accorded a special place in each exhibit. The Smithsonian Community Reef is one such satellite reef, created by individuals from the DC-metropolitan area—including staff from NOAA and NOAA's CRCP. It was made possible through the support of the Quiksilver Foundation, the Embassy of Australia, and the Coral Reef Alliance.