How science and art can help protect Earth

How science and art can help protect Earth

A life-changing research expedition shows one CityU student how BioArt, a form of art using bacteria and living organisms, can help the environment


Martha Hatch recreated coral skeletons using bone ash to help restore coral reefs.
Photo: City University of Hong Kong

I have always thought how awesome it is that students are able to visit untouched sites on an art and science research expedition to find new ways to understand climate change. Out of the blue, I was selected to join the diving team on the coral triangle expedition.

During our classes, our professor showed us different works of art as examples to inspire us to create our own works. One type of art he introduced, called BioArt, caught my attention. This is an art form in which humans work with bacteria, living organisms, and so on, using scientific processes to create art. This form of art widened my vision, as I never imagined integrating the disciplines of art and science in this way. So I began doing research on how I could create a piece of BioArt for this expedition.

While discussing with my classmate the chemical components for the BioArt, I noticed the similarities between coral and bone ashes. This inspired me to recreate coral skeletons using bone ashes to help restore coral reefs, as coral bleaching is a severe global problem. The idea of “life after life” also had a poetic flavour, as I could provide the deceased with another form of life.

But initially, this was just a concept.

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Luckily, this course is supported by top scientists from City University’s State Key Laboratory of Marine Pollution (SKLMP), who provided me with the scientific knowledge and resources to turn my concept into reality .

Meanwhile, we were trained by the best divers in Hong Kong, who equipped us with the skills and a license to dive safely. Soon after the completion of our training in Hong Kong, we set off to Malaysia, along with scientists from SKLMP, while the island team headed off to the Solomon Islands with the Nature Conservancy.

Sipadan, in Malaysia, was almost mythical. The sun’s rays penetrated into the crystal clear water and lit up the colourful sea. As we dived into the deep blue sea, it seemed as if we had entered another world. Even though it was dead silent under the peaceful water, somehow we could still “hear”, as schools of fish streamed around us, as if we were part of a Jackson Pollock painting. It was a great experience creating art underwater with my friends, accompanied by friendly turtles and sharks.

Sadly, not everything is perfect in this wonderland. During a night dive, we saw a giant sea turtle caught between fishing nets. This was something we often read about, but weren’t expecting to see in real life. After freeing the turtle, I came to realise how fragile nature is.

The trip was like a dream – making friends from different countries and backgrounds, working with top scientists, travelling and diving in a untouched site to create art, and most importantly, developing a better understanding of myself. The trip had a very deep impact on me, even weeks after we returned to Hong Kong. Inspired by the experiences provided by the trip and the course, I decided to major in New Media (BAS) at the School of Creative Media, so I can create more BioArt such as my bone ash coral to help protect the environment.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Making a deep impact


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