Immerse yourself in reef research "Meet the Reef!" - Special exhibition by ZMT and Senckenberg Nature Museum Frankfurt

Dive in, observe, analyse: the "Meet the reef!" exhibition project is entering its third round and shows what research into understanding and conserving coral reefs looks like in practice. From diving in the reef to experimental aquaria or scientific work at the desk, experts provide an insight into their everyday research. What do we know about the state of coral reefs worldwide and how can we protect them? After the topics "Society" and "Art", the "Research" perspective is the third and final format of the exhibition extension. It can be viewed from 2 February to 11 July 2024 at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museum Frankfurt. The exhibition was created in cooperation with the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) in Bremen. In addition to the ZMT's press and public relations department and the Office for Knowledge Exchange (Dr Annette Breckwoldt), scientist Dr Sebastian Ferse as well as Dr Michael Schmidt and Stefanie Bröhl from the Scientific Diving Centre were actively involved in the design of the perspective "Research".

The room-filling staging of the coral reef is impressive and is one of the most popular at the Senckenberg Nature Museum Frankfurt. "The beauty of this colourful and diverse ecosystem is simply fascinating: around 3,000 reef inhabitants can be seen interacting here," explains Dr Brigitte Franzen, director of the museum at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museum Frankfurt. She continues: "But we also show the fragility and endangerment of this habitat. Climate change, overfishing and ocean acidification are threatening reefs worldwide. Visitors can experience what research into these amazing ecosystems looks like in concrete terms in the new perspective of the exhibition project 'Meet the Reef! Since December 2022, this innovative format has been using a flexible exhibition display to repeatedly show different, topical content that we develop with various stakeholders and in which visitors can also get involved." The exhibition extension was curated together with researchers from the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) in Bremen. Stations around the model of the coral reef show current results, approaches and methods from various scientific fields.

"Diving in tropical coasts all over the world and observing and studying colourful coral reefs and their inhabitants sounds exciting and adventurous. But on our dives, we unfortunately all too often observe how destroyed many reefs already are. Since the middle of the last century, around half of the corals in reefs worldwide have been lost," explains Dr Sebastian Ferse, scientist at the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT), and continues: "What's more, our work doesn't just consist of diving, we also spend a lot of time at our desks and in the lab."

The exhibition offers an impression of the co-operation between different disciplines in the study of tropical reefs. How is sustainable and equal research carried out within a project? How do the natural and social sciences work together? The ecological side of the exhibition project, deal with reef inhabitants that appear rather inconspicuous at first: sea cucumbers. "Similar to the lugworms of the North Sea, these creatures are highly efficient biofilters and help to create stable conditions for healthy reefs," says Dr Sebastian Ferse, who studies sea cucumbers at  ZMT. However, they are considered a superfood and are therefore heavily fished. "The impact of their overfishing on the ecosystem should not be underestimated," says Ferse. The effects of fishing in coral-rich areas are also being viewed from a social science perspective. The scientists are analysing how fishing techniques differ between women and men and what impact this might have on the reef ecosystem.

However, corals are also studies without diving, namely in laboratories and seawater experiemental  facilities – not only at ZMT, but also at the Justus Liebig University Giessen. A film projection is part of the exhibition and shows how different scenarios for the oceans of the future are simulated at the university and how their effects on corals are investigated. The change in coral reefs in different climate scenarios is also the focus of a current study in which Senckenberg is participating. This involves modelling how the distribution of coral species will develop in the years 2050 and 2100 compared to today under different conditions.

In addition to very practical questions, such as what equipment is required for diving, what safety precautions must be observed and how recreational diving differs from research diving, the exhibition also deals with work beyond underwater observation and experiments: Scientific articles have to be written, specialist conferences organised, expert reports prepared, the public informed and politicians advised on the basis of research findings. A look at a scientist's desk shows that a lot of paperwork and organisational tasks are also part of everyday life in reef research.

"The exhibition project 'Triff das Riff!' is exemplary for the museum. It is in itself an experiment in which we are exploring how to keep permanent exhibitions up-to-date and flexible in terms of content," says museum director Dr Brigitte Franzen. "The mobile exhibition furniture was developed by the artist Markus Zimmermann and we are making the construction plans available to other museums via open source. The curatorial team itself is made up of a multidisciplinary team of cultural and natural scientists. Lisa Voigt and Christina Höfling from the Senckenberg curatorial team and Dr Eva Roßmanith, the head of our Education and Outreach department, have created a tool for reflection with which we can redesign and also examine our fields of activity," she concludes.

About the exhibition series:

"Meet the Reef!" is part of the BMBF research project "Temporary Permanence (TemPe) – Innovative and flexible communication of current socially relevant topics in permanent exhibitions". The project is being continuously developed and its impact and functionality researched by the German Institute for Adult Education - Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning (DIE) in Bonn. The DIE is investigating how the complex relationship between the content and form of an exhibition affects the museum experience and possible learning processes. It is particularly interesting to analyse the influence of the different visual and multisensory elements of the three different perspectives of "Triff das Riff!". Another cooperation partner is the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) in Bremen, which is contributing scientific expertise to the exhibition series.

Exhibition team: Lisa Voigt, Christina Höfling, Dr Eva Roßmanith, Markus Zimmermann, Katarina Haage, Cynthia-Carolina Julca-Amasifuen, Rabika Hussain, Dr Ellen Wagner, Stefanie Klein, Sebastian Ferse, Annette Breckwoldt and others.

The project "Temporary Permanence" started on 2 December 2022 until 21 May 2023 with the perspective Society. The second perspective focused on the artistic commitment to reefs and was on display from 2 June 2023 to 15 January 2024 under the title "Looking for Medusa" with works by Nina M.W. Queissner and Linda Weiß. The third and final perspective "Research" runs until 11 July 2024.

A cooperation between the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung (SGN) and the German Institute for Adult Education - Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning (DIE) in Bonn and the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) in Bremen.

The project "Temporary Permanence (TemPe) - Innovative and flexible communication of current socially relevant topics in permanent exhibitions" is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in the funding line "Innovation Orientation in Research".

More information: museumfrankfurt.senckenberg.de