Ontario Satellite Reef Project Raises Awareness of Climate Change Impact

20 October 2021

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When Australian-born Margaret and Christine Wertheim created The Coral Reef Project in 2005, they not only helped to bring awareness to the devastating effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef, they started a movement that spoke to thousands of crocheters. Margaret is a science writer and artist who, with her artist twin sister Christine, realized that crocheted hyperbolic planes look like coral reefs. This similarity between yarn craft and natural element was first published in 1993 by Dr. Daina Taimina, now-retired Cornell University mathematician and knitter/crocheter, who realized that this type of math, manifested frequently in nature, can be reproduced using yarn to crochet the beautiful curves and contours. Dr. Taimina’s TedxTalk demonstrates the math in understandable terms. The crochet approach is fairly simple: It involves crocheting in the round and doubling the number of stitches in every round so that the piece ruffles dramatically.

Margaret Wertheim’s Tedx Talk, The Beautiful Math of Coral, takes the subject deeper and explains the science, math, and creativity of the crocheted coral reef project.

The Wertheims founded the Institute For Figuring, through which they create ecological projects and engage audiences through crochet, science and mathematics.

They developed a beautiful Core Collection of crocheted coral reefs that tour the world, visiting art galleries and museums, and in 2021 The Ontario Science Centre. The Core Collection raises awareness of bleaching and damage to coral reefs around the world as a result of warming oceans due to climate change.

The visiting Core Collection is accompanied by local crocheters creating their own hyperbolic planes to form so-called Satellite Reefs. The #OntarioSatelliteReef project began in 2021 and will remain on display at the Ontario Science Centre well into 2022.

image description: a view of several items in the crochet coral reef exhibition

Kim Callaghan, a contributor to the #OntarioSatelliteReef, heard about The Coral Reef Project in 2008 while in New York City. “I saw crocheted coral at the New York University Broadway windows and thought they were awesome,” she said. “Then I saw an ad for the lecture through the Ontario Science Centre last winter and was super excited to know that they were the same creators, and that the project had continued and flourished for so many years. To watch Margaret Wertheim discuss math, science, and crochet in a webinar during the pandemic, through the Ontario Science Centre, blew my mind.”

Kim explained that she is concerned about plastics in oceans, toxins in breast milk, warming temperatures, changes in diseases caused by climate change, how long humans will continue on the planet. “Most recently, I’m concerned about teens and mental health as they contemplate the climate crisis.”

Crocheter Kaileigh Kwan heard about the reef project when she and her family visited the Ontario Science Center this August. “It was the first members-only weekend since the pandemic began in 2020. We noticed a beautiful display once entering and were curious and excited to see a display of crochet coral reef.” Kaileigh considers herself a craftivist and was inspired by Margaret Wertheim’s TedxTalk to learn more and take action in her region.

Donna Francis is the Ontario Science Centre’s Researcher-Programmer for Chemistry & Materials Science and coordinator of the coral reef project. An avid knitter, she heard about the coral reef project several years ago. She recalls, “A satellite version of the Crochet Coral Reef was hosted independently in Toronto in 2012 in a neighbourhood window, and I thought that it was so lovely. I learned more about it as a result, and was overjoyed when the Ontario Science Centre was in talks with the artists to bring the exhibition to Toronto. I was very happy to participate in the satellite reef project and bring it to life for our visitors, both virtual and in-person!”

image description: a view of several items in the crochet coral reef exhibition

She continues, “The most exciting aspect of this #OntarioSatelliteReef project for me is the opportunity to engage in a community collaboration and see what different people create in response. I am so in awe of the work that crafters have submitted! The Ontario Science Centre has displayed artistic responses and innovative ideas as part of other exhibitions, but I think that this is the first time that it has a digital presence on our website where other people can view and be inspired by the creativity in addition to seeing the collaboration on site at the Ontario Science Centre.”

The Ontario Science Centre will continue to accept contributions until early 2022. Dr. Taimina’s free crochet patterns are available on Ravelry and others can be found online, especially on Pinterest.

Find more information at Ontario Satellite Reef | Ontario Science Centre.

image description: elements of the crocheted coral reef project, colourful crocheted replicas of elements of a coral reef

All images used with permission of the Ontario Science Centre.

Copyright © Sandra Clarke except as indicated.

About Sandra Clarke

Sandra Clarke, has been untangling skeins of yarn + making useful shiny things for over 30 years. Born in the colourful, celtic, Montreal neighbourhood of Griffintown, + educated in Montreal, New York, Winnipeg, Vancouver + Toronto, helped Sandra develop her eclectic style. Her textile + fibre arts + courses include; embroidery, weaving, spinning, sewing, felting + knitting. On the shiny arts side, she creates + teaches; fused glass, beaded trees of life, jewelry + button making. Her art can be seen regularly in boutiques, galleries, + online. Sandra's ecology themed colouring books can be found on Amazon + in her courses. She teaches art + art business courses online, in galleries + schools. Fueled by the fast-fashion rebellion, visible mending + craftivism, Sandra's no-waste philosophy results in ethically made + thoughtfully re-fashioned textile art. Sandra lives with her husband + children, dividing her time between her home in Mississauga, Ontario, + her off-grid cabin-in-the-woods near Algonquin Park in Highlands East, Ontario. You can see more of her work at sandraclarke.ca, and on instagram at sandra.clarke.canada.

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