Great Barrier Reef has lost half its cover

“Climate change is not a future threat. On the Great Barrier Reef, it’s been happening for 18 years.” – Terry Hughes, coral biologist, James Cook University.


This devastating New York Timearticle chronicles the latest bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, with 2016 the worst ever recorded and 2017 looking to be yet another epic scorcher.

“We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” said Terry P. Hughes, director of a government-funded center for coral reef studies at James Cook University in Australia and the lead author of a paper  published today as the cover article of the journal Nature. “In the north, I saw hundreds of reefs — literally two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead.”

The IFF’s Crochet Coral Reefs, some of which are currently on display at the UC Santa Cruz Sesnon Gallery, are an elegiac artistic response to this crisis. When Margaret and Christine Wertheim started the project they joked that if the GBR ever died out, their crochet reef would be something to remember it by. A decade later the unthinkable has become a pending possibility.

Citizens of Santa Cruz are currently crocheting a reef as the latest addition to the IFF’s worldwide wooly archipelago. For information see the UCSC Institute of the Arts and Sciences. UCSC-IAS


Aeon Article


Cold and calculating. A Dorid nudibranch (Tritoniella belli) in Antarctica. Photo by Norbert Wu/Minden/National Geographic

Sea slugs, sound waves, falcons, and electrons all enact amazingly complex pieces of mathematics. In the fibers of their being and their ongoing activities they are mathematicians-by-practice. Here in Aeon magazine, IFF director Margaret Wertheim explores the idea that math may be seen as a kind of performance akin to playing music.


Solidarity + Scientific American

“After the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage?” There’s one more week to go of the IFF’s exhibition Crochet Coral Reef: TOXIC SEAS at the Museum of Arts and Design, NYC, (on until Jan 22, 2017). Also ending soon is the major retrospective of Mierle Laderman Ukeles “maintenance art” show at the Queens Museum. Reef creators Christine and Margaret Wertheim are honored to have shared the Manhattan stage with this pioneering feminist artist. Pictured below, Coral Forest – Stheno stands in solidarity with maintenance art practitioners and working women everywhere.

And here in Scientific American Margaret muses on new ways of expanding science communication and the Crochet Coral Reef as a powerful tool for using art+craft to move beyond the fear-factor of climate change. With 2016 the third-in-a-row, hottest-year-on-record, the Crochet Reef’s constructive, community-based approach to this topic is more salient than ever.

See here: IFF exhibition webpage and photo-gallery.

Crochet Coral Forest, at the Museum of Arts and Design, NY, 2016/2017. Photo by Jenna Bascon, courtesy MAD.

Crochet Coral Forest – Stheno by Margaret and Christine Wertheim, at the Museum of Arts and Design, NY. Collection of Jorian Polis Schutz. Photo by Jenna Bascom, courtesy of MAD.


Paris Agreement + MAD


December 12 is the first anniversary of the Paris Agreement on climate change outlining commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the spirit of Paris, the IFF’s exhibition Crochet Coral Reef: TOXIC SEAS continues at the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan. The show runs through January 22, 2017. Highlights include two bleached crochet reefs; a rare showing of The Midden (Margaret and Christine’s monumental personal-plastic-trash pile suspended in a fishing net as a commentary on our individual participation in oceanic trash); plus a site-specific, 30-foot long blackboard charting the chemistry of life and its entanglements with CO2 and plastic.

Photo credits: (Top) Crochet Coral Reef: TOXIC SEAS, by Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring, at Museum of Arts and Design, NY 2016. (Bottom) The Midden, four years worth of the Wertheim's domestic plastic trash. [Photos by Jenna Bascom courtesy of MAD.]

Photo credits: (Top) Crochet Coral Reef: TOXIC SEAS by Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring, at the Museum of Arts and Design, NY 2016. (Bottom) The Midden, four years worth of the Wertheim’s own domestic plastic trash suspended in a fishing net; in the background is the Chemical Blackboard with a timeline of organic chemistry and the rise of CO2. [Photos by Jenna Bascom courtesy of MAD.]

Great Barrier Reef in danger, says UNESCO


UNESCO has threatened to list the Great Barrier Reef, as a “World Heritage in Danger” unless Australia cleans up its act and works harder to save this ecological treasure. On Friday the Australian government filed a report on what it’s doing, which coral reef scientists have declared inadequate. Tragically, the government’s plan of action, outlined in its Reef 2050 Plan, is silent about global warming. Moreover the Queensland government is pushing ahead with plans to build a vast port to ship coal in the middle of the GBR and Oz is showing little sign of meeting its CO2 target emissions to ensure world temperatures don’t rise by more than 2˚C, a must if reefs are to survive. Shame on my native land!

Here you can see footage of a helicopter flyover above dozens of GBR rub-reefs devastated by massive coral bleaching this year.

Photo by Jason South.


2016 Hottest year on record + NZ Radio

image-20161111-25052-ip7u3qIts official says the World Meteorological Organization: 2016 is the hottest year on record, with global temperatures averaging 1.2˚C warmer than the pre-industrial era. Almost everywhere was hotter this year, but the burn wasn’t evenly distributed: the Russian Arctic was an alarming 6˚- 7˚C degrees hotter. Bad news for polar bears. Ocean temperatures are also at an all-time high, causing vast bleaching events across the Great Barrier Reef. Here’s an article in The Conversation on 2016’s relentless rise of global warming.

Also from this week, an interview on Radio New Zealand’s Nights program with IFF Director Margaret Wertheim discussing the Crochet Coral Reef project and its marriage of science and art as a method for engaging audiences about climate change in ways that are powerful, positive and constructive.


Crochet Coral Reef: TOXIC SEAS opens at MAD, NYC


Tonight is the opening party for our new exhibition Crochet Coral Reef: TOXIC SEAS by Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring, at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC. The show is a stunning triumph of handicraft, plastic trash and feminism. More news and gorgeous photos coming soon.


IFF wins the AxS Award for art and science

On September 21, 2016, the Institute For Figuring was awarded the annual art and science, AxS Award by the Pasadena Arts Council. Margaret and Christine Wertheim were delighted to accept this honor, which has previously been granted to such luminaries as JPL’s artist-in-residence Dan Goods, land-artist Lita Albequeque, and Lorne Buchman president of Art Center College of Design.

Awards webpage


Coral reefs may not survive global warming

hgh-res-green reefA decade ago when Margaret and Christine Wertheim started the Crochet Coral Reef project, they joked that if the Great Barrier Reef ever died out, their woolly reef would be something to remember it by. New research compiled by the international agency Climate Analytics warns that most coral reefs won’t survive a 2˚C rise in temperature and the world is now on target to break that limit. If reefs are to make it through, the researchers say, humans need to restrict global warming to no more than 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels, which would at least allow “some chance for a fraction of the world’s coral reefs to survive.” 1.5˚C is probably an impossible goal, requiring carbon emissions to peak by the end of this decade then radically decline, with a future “carbon budget” of just 250 billion tonnes of CO2. That’s approximately six years worth of our present emissions. This sobering news comes as the IFF is preparing for our Crochet Coral Reef: Toxic Seas exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design in NY, opening September 15, 2016. The historic photo above was one of the Wertheim’s first handicraft reefs, dating back to 2006, just when scientists were beginning to link reef degradation to climate change.


Physics, religion and South Park

Sometimes things go awry. Especially on South Park. How delightful to see in this Wisecrack video about the representation of religion in South Park, a discussion of IFF director Margaret Wertheim’s book Pythagoras’ Trousers – itself a history of the relationship between physics and religion. Included is an animation of Margaret and South Park creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, doing a googly-eyed dance.