Saturday, July 14, 2018

Coccolithophores Impressed: Ōku Moana and The Sandpit Collective

 Coccolithophores are a group of microscopic phytoplankton found living in earth's sunlit oceans. These single-celled algae are surrounded by armoured plates ('coccoliths') made from calcium carbonate (limestone). They are vulnerable to ocean acidification; coccolithophores will be threatened in future ocean phytoplankton communities, with potentially dramatic consequences for the global carbon cycle.

Scanning electron microscopy image (x17.000 magnification) of
the cosmopolitan coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi  (Ro Allen)

 During New Zealand International Science Festival (6 – 15 July) The Sandpit Collective (Dr Jenny Rock and Lynn Taylor) combined with Ro Allen, a candidate in Science Communication at the University of Otago whose PhD research focuses on coccolithophores.   

To share concern regarding the projected increase in ocean acidity due to climate change and to highlight the significant challenges for coccolithophores we designed a SciArt experience as part of the Ōku Moana exhibition at the Community Gallery in Dunedin.

The Sandpit Collective believe that engaging people in art and aesthetics can be a way to raise awareness and share scientific knowledge.  

Under 12's worked on texture rubbings of healthy and unhealthy coccoliths. After revealing various stages of disorganisintion in coccolith formation due to the effects of ocean acidification they cut out and attached their rubbings to the corresponding giant healthy and unhealthy coccolithophore models. 

Texture Rubbing table with laser cut coccoliths

Close up of texture rubbing healthy coccoliths

Healthy coccolithophore model with it's
armour on: texture rubbings of liths
 by exhibition visitors
Coccolith necklaces worn by
The Sandpit
Participants could also make their
own 'microscope slide' of
 rubbings and drawings

 Visitors aged 12+ (and for the occasional younger person who persuaded us) were invited to make their own blind emboss prints of healthy and unhealthy coccoliths. Working around a press is  a communal activity and provided a great opportunity to discuss the role and importance of coccolithophores in trapping our carbon emissions.

Bella and Emma working at the printing press 

Prints were taken away in an information pamphlet that Ro published so people could follow up on scientific specifics after the experiences.

Pamphlet which provided protection and information to go
 with the prints

Alongside participants making emboss prints to take home most contributed a print to the community art work which built up over the course of the exhibition. We had over 100 participants with in excess of 400 blind emboss prints made.  Thank you to everyone who participated and helpers: Pam, Jesse,Trevor, Sara, Becky, James and Scarlet to name a few. 

Installing emboss prints on the community exhibit.
 Unhealthy on the left, healthy on the right.
 (Not applicable to the participants!)

Laid out in a grid the prints become like a survival blanket - a way of visibly seeing the importance of this phytoplankton that is too small to see with the naked eye. 

A selection of blind emboss prints 
created by Ōku Moana visitors

The paper we used was off cuts from a business associated with the University of OtagoThe prints, when stacked resemble the sea and ocean floor which lead to the inspiration to photograph the prints back in the habitat of the coccolithophore, the sea.

Stack of prints showing deckled edges of the paper

It's the middle of winter in Dunedin, in fact the exhibition was aligned with Matariki celebrations and my feet went numb in the sea whilst retrieving the prints. 

Coccolith prints thinking about home

Releasing coccolith prints back to the sea under 
the watchful eyes of seagulls
In a poetic happenstance prints that tumbled back to shore with the waves were added to with a layer of sand. Beautiful incidental drawing that felt like an appropriate closure to a week of appreciating our oceans.

Sea and Sand drawings
Interested groups are welcome to use these texture rubbing and solar plates as a starter kit for their own SciArt activity if you contact us and organise courier of the items. 
Other items of interest at: