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The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef

Virginia Quarterly Review | Wednesday, Jun 01, 2011


One of the acknowledged wonders of the natural world, the Great Barrier Reef stretches along the coast of Queensland, Australia, in a riotous profusion of color and form—but global warming now threatens its future. In homage to these disappearing treasures, Australian sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim instigated a project to crochet a handmade reef.

The more they've been shrinking, the bigger it's been getting, though maybe that's the wrong way to put it. The world's great coral reefs, that is, and in particular Australia's Great Barrier Reef, on the one hand—and, on the other, the Great Hyperbolic Crocheted Reef, brainspawn originally of a pair of Brisbane twins, transplanted to Los Angeles, alarmed at the harrowing fate of that beloved natural wonder and national treasure back home. For the Great Barrier Reef has, in fact, been dying off at a near precipitous rate of late—such that almost a third of its once magisterial 133,000 square miles (stretching out along 1,200 miles of the Queensland coast—the world's largest organism, the first living structure visible to any craft approaching from outer space) has over the past couple decades been spiraling into collapse, a direct result, it now appears, of the rising ocean temperatures and sea acidification which are being occasioned (as predicted) by global climatic change. "The canary in the coalmine of global warming," is how Margaret Wertheim, one of the twins, describes the status of all the world's endangered reefs: a catastrophe that can no longer be dismissed as merely putative or hypothetical or looming, but one that is already well upon us, or so the shrinking reefs keep telling us, plain as day.

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