Natural History Museum's Coral Reef Exhibition Lacks Depth

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 32 months ago
Natural History Museum's Coral Reef Exhibition Lacks Depth ★★☆☆☆ 2
This small aquarium of a coral reef is the only living display in the exhibition. © NHM, London
This small aquarium of a coral reef is the only living display in the exhibition. © NHM, London
The giant Turbinaria coral. © NHM, London
The giant Turbinaria coral. © NHM, London
The venomous blue-ringed octopus. © NHM, London
The venomous blue-ringed octopus. © NHM, London
A large yet delicate sea fan, unfortunately lacking in vitality. © NHM, London
A large yet delicate sea fan, unfortunately lacking in vitality. © NHM, London
This giant grouper is impressively large, yet undeniably dead. © NHM, London
This giant grouper is impressively large, yet undeniably dead. © NHM, London
Hawksbill turtles eat the algae that can overwhelm the corals, but overfishing may upset this balance. © NHM, London
Hawksbill turtles eat the algae that can overwhelm the corals, but overfishing may upset this balance. © NHM, London

Londonist Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Think of coral reefs, and pictures of dazzling, colourful — and very much living — undersea worlds spring to mind. So how can such a thing be replicated in a museum exhibition?

Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea begins by displaying all the varieties of coral. The diversity is typified by the first two large specimens, a delicate sea fan and a heavyset Turbinaria coral. But there's a problem. As these are dead and preserved, they're all a shade of off-white, and lack the vibrancy they had when living. The same can be said for the animal specimens; the giant clam and massive grouper may be impressive in scale, but they fail to make the impact the'd have were they alive in the water. It's all a bit dry.

The exhibition tries to remedy this with 180 degree screens that can be used to navigate coral reefs. There's even a small tank with living corals towards the end, but more of these aquaria are needed to make a real impact.

There are mentions of how a lack of biodiversity can harm coral reefs and the impact of human intervention, but these subjects are only touched upon and could be explored in more detail.

The show tries to be informative, interactive and to make us aware of our environmental impact all at once; by doing this it stretches itself too thin and doesn't quite tick any of these boxes. Coral reefs were always going to be difficult to translate into an exhibition, and this one feels way out of its depth.

Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea is on at Natural History Museum until 13 September. Tickets for adults are £10 and £4.50 for children. Also still on at the Natural History Museum is this year's excellent Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

Nearby is the revolutionary Alexander McQueen blockbuster at the V&A and photography meets science in Revelations at Science Museum.

Last Updated 27 March 2015

Penel

Horniman Museum in Forest Hill is a good place to see live corals and other aquariums.

Eva

Corals are a protected species and they are is endangered so you just can't pick it up willy nilly to display at exhibitions. Complaining at the lack of corals is ignorance.