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Photographing a Coral Wall’s Inhabitants

From the Field posts

Sparks-Gruber

John Sparks and David Gruber imaging Bloody Bay Wall in Little Cayman. Courtesy of N. van Niekerk


Curator John Sparks is blogging weekly about the upcoming exhibition, Creatures of Light, which opens on Saturday, March 31.

One of the amazing things about working on an exhibition is having the chance to incorporate our own research—sometimes, very recent research.

Within the past year, including just last December, my colleague, Museum Research Associate David Gruber (CUNY), and I have gone on multiple expeditions to the Cayman Islands and the Exumas, Bahamas, to photograph a coral wall and its inhabitants at night using special lights and filters to capture biofluorescence.

The phenomenon of biofluorescence results from the absorption of electromagnetic radiation at one wavelength by an organism, followed immediately by its re-emission at a longer, lower-energy wavelength. With special cameras, we captured brilliant red, green, and orange fluorescing corals, anemones, mollusks, marine worms, and a myriad of fishes, including sharks and rays.

Although it is unnerving to hover in complete darkness over a wall that drops thousands of feet—particularly when we get occasional glimpses of quickly moving sharks in our flashes—the results are well worth the effort.

Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence opens on Saturday, March 31.

lizardfish

Fluorescent lizardfish, courtesy of David Gruber


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