The Museum and the Catlin Group Limited have announced a new exhibition to explore life beneath the waves, opening next spring.
Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea will open at the Museum on 27 March 2015. It will celebrate the extraordinary beauty of the world's corals through the richness of life supported by them.
It will also utilise the Museum's collection of ancient and modern reefs to highlight ongoing research into the damage caused to corals by climate change, pollution and overfishing, and the potential for future protection.
Although corals can look like rocks, they are actually colonies of tiny animals related to jellyfish, with limestone skeletons. Corals grow as little as one or two millimetres a year.
Coral reefs are found in shallow waters in the tropics and are home to almost a quarter of all living species in the sea. They are highly sensitive to changes in the ocean, such as temperature, pollution and acidity and can provide early warning signals to shifts in conditions.
The exhibition will include specimens collected by Darwin on the HMS Beagle expedition between 1831 and 1836, giant washing machine-sized Turbinaria coral, and some of the strange and spectacular creatures that live on coral, from venomous blue-ringed octopus to tiny sponge crabs.
The Museum's exhibition partner, Catlin Group Limited, an international speciality insurer, and is also the title sponsor of the Catlin Seaview Survey, a project involving some of the world's leading scientific institutions to monitor coral reef health.
Museum coral reef researcher Dr Ken Johnson said, ‘Coral reefs are not simply beautiful environments. They provide food, income and storm protection for many millions of people around the world.
'Now we have access to new technology, such as the cameras and robots being used by the Catlin Seaview Survey, we can document current conditions of many reefs around the world and gain even more insight into how coral reefs cope with these changes.’