Preserving the Dry Coral Collection
Preserving the Dry Coral Collection – Transcript
[The Museum's video logo appears over blurred footage of a colorful coral reef, followed by the title of the video, "Preserving the Dry Coral Collection".]
[The footage of the coral reef comes into focus, and the word "CNIDARIANS" appears with the phonetic pronunciation written underneath it: "NAHY-DAIR-EE-UHNS". We then see the first speaker on camera.]
ESTEFANíA RODRíGUEZ (Associate Curator, Division of Invertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History):
Corals are Cnidarians. Cnidarians is a group of animals, around 10,000 species more or less, relatively simple, but very diverse, with many, many forms, including jellyfish, corals, anemones.
[As she says each of the forms of cnidarians, footage of that animal appears on screen.]
RODRíGUEZ: Stony corals are the corals that everybody knows.
[A large stony coral specimen with many curving branches sits in front of a black background. The words "stony coral" appears at the bottom of the screen with an arrow pointing towards the specimen.]
RODRíGUEZ: They are colonies of very little polyps. Basically sacks with tentacles that live in the sea floor,
[A close-up photo of pink/orange polyps with translucent tentacles appears on the screen with the words "CORAL POLYPS" and arrows pointing from the word to various polyps in the picture underneath.]
RODRíGUEZ: and they have the ability of producing an exoskeleton.
[Footage of live coral polyps visible on large pieces of flat coral in a reef.]
RODRíGUEZ: Like that, they produce the coral reefs that everybody knows and that are very, very important because they sustain a lot of other animals.
[An underwater camera drifts slowly across a colorful coral reef with many specimens in shades of greens and purples.]
RODRíGUEZ: They are the base for the whole community and they actually make deserts into very biodiverse coral reefs.
[Three consecutive shots of fish of many shapes and colors swimming amongst corals in different reefs around the world.]
CHRISTINE JOHNSON(Curatorial Association, Division of Invertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History): In our coral collection here at the American Museum of Natural History, we have about a little over 4,000 specimens from all over the world. The collection dates back to about 1873.
[Three consecutive shots of Christine Johnson opening specimen drawers from various cabinets around the room, followed by a tilting shot of the inside of a specimen cabinet with many pieces of dry coral.]
JOHNSON: Some of these collections were donated by amateur collectors or some researchers, or they were considered by-catch. So, people would go out on expeditions for other things, and would bring back pieces of coral.
[Archival black-and-white footage of a woman swimming near a coral reef]
JOHNSON: And then there was an expedition to bring back a reef and to replicate a reef within the museum.
[Archival black and white footage of scientists collecting coral specimens in the wild and then assembling a display of coral at the Museum]
JOHNSON: And you can see that in the Hall of Ocean Life. It's a spectacular display.
[Footage of the Museum's coral reef diorama in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, followed by dry coral specimens on a cart in a lab setting.]
JOHNSON: But then we have specimens that are for researcher use only.
RODRíGUEZ: The collection of dry corals at the AMNH is important because it's old. That means that we can travel in time and see how the oceans were 200 years ago.
[Footage of a modern-day coral reef with fish swimming above fades into a 200-year old woodblock print of life on the sea floor.]
Nowadays, as people may be aware, coral is becoming increasingly endangered.
We decided that we really needed to put this effort into rehousing the coral, so that it's available to the outside world.
[One long shot of coral specimens arranged in their storage cabinets, with labels indicating that they are protected species.]
REZES: (Coral Rehousing Project Intern, Division of Invertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History):
So we are currently six months in to our ongoing three-year project to clean, document and photograph the entirety of the dry coral collection at AMNH.
[Quick shots of someone cleaning a coral specimen, cleaning a specimen's label, and photographing a specimen.]
REZES:The way that we clean the coral is with a vacuum and a soft brush, right now we're using watercolor brushes. Who knew, very effective.
[A woman carefully holds a small vacuum hose up to a coral specimen while brushing dust off of the specimen into the vacuum.]
REZES:After we're all done cleaning, we take the time to photograph all of the specimens with all of their original labels from the donor.
[Emily arranges a specimen and its labels for photography and takes a picture.]
REZES:And this is because they can be some of the most detailed sources of locality information, and the date it was collected and the collector and things like that.
[A single specimen and its original label lie against a gray background. As Emily lists the type of information given by the label, that part of the label is highlighted.]
REZES:Most of the stuff that I've worked with before is an artwork that somebody has crafted in some way, whereas here, it was once living and it was grown and nobody has shaped it into this form.
[Three consecutive shots of coral specimens highlight the unique shapes stony corals form as they grow.]
REZES:My favorite species that I've worked with so far is Acropora Spicifera.
[A photograph of a large Acropora Spicfera specimen on a black background appears. The words "ACROPORA SPICIFERA" appear in the corner with an arrow pointing to the specimen.]
REZES:It's almost like lace, and if you get really close it kind of looks like a forest.
[Details of the specimen shown in the previous photograph]
One of my most favorite pieces is this single piece of black coral. This piece is just so beautiful and sleek and elegant.
[A slow tilting shot along the length of a piece of long, thin, black coral. The words "BLACK CORAL" appear in the bottom corner with an arrow pointing to the specimen.]
Corals are very beautiful, so I don't think I have a favorite one. Many of the pieces are amazing.
[A close-up, detailed shot of a stony coral specimen starts out blurred and comes into sharp focus.
By researchers coming here, carbon-dating the coral, and also looking at how environmental conditions have affected the coral, this will absolutely help us understand the fate of corals and how to protect corals going forward in the future.
[A shot of stony coral specimens in storage cabinets fades into footage of a living coral reef.]
More than 4,000 dry coral specimens are housed in the collections of the American Museum of Natural History! This collection is not only beautiful but essential for scientists studying our oceans because it lets them peer back in time. Dive in with the dry coral collections team to learn how corals grow, how the Museum takes care of these storied specimens, and how museum collections like this help protect living corals in the wild.
Read more about the coral rehousing project here.