The humble craft of crocheting is at the forefront of saving Australia's Great Barrier Reef, which is threatened by pollution and global warming. To raise awareness of the delicate reef and the threat to its future, crafters from around the world are crocheting a life-like woollen version of it. The amazing project will serve as a textile testimony to this Natural Wonder of the World.
The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef [‘hyperbolic’ for its geometric yet frilled shape] is the brainchild of Queensland-born twin sisters, Christine and Margaret Wertheim. Between them, they count craft, science, mathematics, art, feminism and environmental activism as interests.
The Wertheim sisters, 49, hatched the plan for creating a woolly homage to the Great Barrier Reef in late 2005. Initially, it was a little object on the coffee table in their California home. But when the call went out through their non-profit educational organisation, the Institute for Figuring [IFF], they received a flood of contributions from inspired creatives. Hand-crocheted coral forms, jellyfish, flatworms, slugs, kelps, sponges and anemones were sent in from all corners of the globe. The crochet reef now covers more than 278 square metres. It is, like its ocean counterpart, ever-evolving.
“Every person who takes up this craft creates new species of crochet organisms and we have come to see the project as a collective experiment in textile-based evolution," the Wertheim’s said in their artist statement for an exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center.
"Just as all living creatures result from variations in an underlying DNA code, so the species in these hand-crafted reefs arise from deviations in a single simple algorithm. Slight variations in the kind of yarn, changes in the rate of increasing stitches, even shifts in crochet tension make significant differences to the morphology of the finished form.
"In its fulfilment, the project is ... from those that recognise the beauty, intricacy and endlessness of the Great Barrier Reef, and root that appreciation in the study of forms, patterns and geometric possibilities that come from a mix of scientific and artistic inquiry."
The project, say the Wertheim’s, is driven by a sense of “ecological urgency”, not only for the Great Barrier Reef but for the health of all the world’s oceans.
The 345,000-square-kilometre Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest living organism, is severely affected by marine pollutants, agricultural run-off and, most of all, global warming. Almost one third of the reef's coral has died so far. The slightest change in temperature, no more than a single degree – a figure we are approaching in some parts of the world – is disastrous for many corals.
“The pace of warming is of major concern,” said Australian Institute of Marine Science [AIMS] coral expert Ray Berkelmans. "It gives organisms little time to respond or adapt." By the end of this century, current projections suggest that the Great Barrier Reef could be one to three degrees Celsius warmer, causing devastation on a wide scale.
Also, excessive greenhouse gases released into the environment are absorbed, in part, by the oceans, resulting in greater water acidity with dire consequences for corals.
“More acidic waters make it difficult for corals and other calcifying organisms, such as animals with shells, to form their skeletons, which are ultimately responsible for building the physical structure of the reef,” said AIMS research scientist, Dr Janice Lough.
As if all that wasn't enough, coral reefs are also at risk from more cyclones, which are another consequence of climate change, plus agricultural and other land run-off, including improperly treated sewage.
The crochet reef, or parts of it, are being exhibited around the world. 2008 is the International Year of the Reef [part of a worldwide campaign to protect tropical habitats] and exhibitions of the crochet reef have been held in the UK and the USA. In New York, the crochet reef was displayed at New York University and the World Financial Center like an aquarium, looking, for all intents and purposes, like the real thing. Let's hope it's not the only Great Barrier Reef representation future generations are left with.
By Carolyn Ford
All images courtesy Institute for Figuring