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Crocheting a coral reef: The intersection of ecology, art, and mathematics

Crocheting a coral reef: The intersection of ecology, art, and mathematics

Image source: © smh / X
Marta Grzeszczuk,
17.01.2024 16:45

The Crochet Coral Reef project, led by the Wertheim twin sisters, has turned 18 and is growing despite the shrinking of natural coral reefs.

In 2005, twin sisters Christine and Margaret Wertheim embarked on a project to create a crochet coral reef. Their creation is considered the largest art installation in the world, bringing together art, craft, mathematics, and ecology. The project is a testament to the power of human skill and the importance of collaboration.

What is the Crochet Coral Reef project?

The Crochet Coral Reef project has been in progress for 18 years and is still growing. In a Substack post dated 31 December 2023, Margaret Wertheim shared that the project had recently come to Austria, where 2,000 people contributed roughly 30,000 pieces to the reef made of yarn.

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The previous year, 4,000 people in Germany had created over 40,000 crochet pieces. Nearly 25,000 people, 99% of them women, have participated in the project. In her 2009 TED talk, Wertheim discussed the feminine-mathematical aspect of the Crochet Coral Reef.

The Wertheim sisters, both respected journalists writing about science, were inspired by Daina Taimiņa, a Latvian mathematician who created the first permanent physical model of a hyperbolic surface in 1997. Hyperbolic planes have a wavy structure found in natural objects like lettuce leaves and coral reefs. However, mathematicians had difficulty recognising these similarities and their models of hyperbolic planes were made by cutting and glueing pieces of paper.

Taimina used yarn and crochet to create the first permanent models of hyperbolic space. The Wertheim sisters picked up on this discovery in 2005. They incorporated it into an art project that also aimed to raise awareness about the extinction of coral reefs, particularly the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.

Coral reefs under threat

Coral reefs are extremely sensitive to changes in water temperature. Even a tiny increase in temperature can lead to the reef losing its colour. This happens because the corals and algae that make up the reef lose their delicate balance. Algae provide the reef with about 90% of its energy, and when this balance is disrupted, the reef fades and dies.

As Margaret Wertheim pointed out on Substack, the Great Barrier Reef has shrunk by more than 50% since 1995. The only way to save it is to control global warming, which requires the cooperation of the entire world community. However, the Barrier Reef project proves that working together towards a common goal is possible.

Source: margaretwertheim.substack.com

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