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Dive into the secret cities of the sea

A live coral reef and a panoramic virtual dive are just some of the amazing sights in store for visitors to the new exhibition, Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea. It runs at the Natural History Museum, 27 March - 13 September, in partnership with Catlin Group Limited.

The exhibition tells the story of how corals play an essential role, not just for animals that live in and around them, but also for human well-being.

Two hundred and fifty specimens from the Museum’s coral, fish and marine invertebrate collection are featured, alongside stunning images collected by the Catlin Seaview Survey.

Cities of the sea

Dr Ken Johnson, coral reefs researcher at the Museum says: ’We admire the beauty of coral reefs, but we often overlook just how vital they are for the everyday lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world. Not only are they home to a diverse range of life, but reefs provide valuable food, income and coastal protection.

Coral reefs are complex cities of the sea, with inhabitants playing differing roles and together, maintaining the health of these amazing ecosystems even as accelerating human impacts threaten them worldwide.’

Get close to life on the seafloor

The exhibition’s star attraction is a 3,500-litre aquarium featuring 20 species of live coral and around 100 fish. Experts from the Horniman Museum spent almost a year planning which species to include in order to create a thriving ecosystem.

Visitors can also embark on a virtual dive. Three dive stations offer a choice of coral reefs that you can then navigate through using 180-degree panoramic imagery from the Catlin Seaview.

Specimen highlights

Among the Museum specimens on display are six corals collected by Charles Darwin during his voyage on HMS Beagle from 1831 to 1836. These specimens helped Darwin to develop his first scientific theory - an attempt to explain how coral reefs form.

Another highlight is the giant clam, the largest of all living molluscs. It is currently under threat of extinction due to overfishing.

Corals under threat

Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Museum, said ’Coral reefs and the creatures that inhabit them are being studied every day here at the Museum.

'The specimens and scientific research in this exhibition help us understand and predict the effect of human impact and climate change on our oceans, one of the biggest challenges facing our natural world today.’

Felicity Paynter, a Museum interpretation developer who curated the exhibition continued, ’I hope that, through the stunning specimens and imagery, visitors will experience the wonder of corals.  

'The idea is that, even though we don’t see corals on a day-to-day basis, people are reminded how important they are and that we can all contribute to changes that will protect them.’