Iowa's Coral Reef

Feb 23, 2016

The Paleozoic Era is the last time a coral reef existed in Iowa. Now, with the help of some dedicated crocheters, a coral reef, or an approximation of one, will be in the state once again.

Margaret Wertheim is the co-creator of the Crochet Coral Reef. First created in her native Australia and now spread to 35 cities in 12 countries, complex coral reefs are woven from yarn by groups of volunteers in imitation of a rapidly dying natural phenomenon.

“We grew up in Queensland, the state of Australia where the Great Barrier Reef is. Coral reefs are dying out because of global warming and ocean acidification. Wouldn’t it be interesting to make an artistic simulation of coral reefs using this beautiful crochet technique, which would give us the opportunity to teach people about mathematics, teach them about marine science, pay attention to global warming, and also do a beautiful art project together?”

Wertheim says the reefs not only lie at the intersection of art and environmental conservation, but at the intersection of so-called “women’s work” and math. She says mixing a traditionally feminine task with a subject women have been historically shut out of enables a new understanding of both.

“There’s nothing innately masculine or male about mathematics. It’s a human endeavor. But it has been the case that historically it’s been associated with men, and women have been generally discouraged from mathematics. I think what this project proves, is that women are capable of math, they’re even interested in math. They want to engage with it, if only it’s offered to them in ways that are appealing to them.”