A fascinating new exhibition at the Natural History Museum delves into the world of coral reefs…Words Ginny Weeks.

With over 250 coral, fish and marine specimens, a live, sustainable* coral reef and a 180 degree panoramic virtual dive, the Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea exhibition provides a wonderful way to learn about the importance of our marine ecosystem.

Dr Ken Johnson, coral reefs researcher at the Natural History Museum says: “We admire the beauty of coral reefs, but we often overlook just how vital they are for the everyday lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world. Not only are they home to a diverse range of life, but reefs provide valuable food, income and coastal protection. Coral reefs are complex cities of the sea, with inhabitants playing differing roles. Together they maintain the health of these amazing ecosystems even as accelerating human impacts threaten them worldwide.'' 

Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum adds; “Coral reefs and the creatures that inhabit them are being studied every day here at the Museum. The specimens and scientific research in this exhibition help us understand and predict the effect of human impact and climate change on our oceans, one of the biggest challenges facing our natural world today.” 

The exhibition runs from 27 March until 13 September 2015. Tickets cost £10 for adults (including a voluntary donation to the Museum).

To celebrate, here are 10 fascinating facts about coral, along with pictures of some of the stars of the exhibit:

*The coral reef aquarium features marine life confiscated by UK customs or loaned from coral research tanks at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, London.

Highlights include: 

Six corals collected by Charles Darwin during his voyage on HMS Beagle from 1831 to 1836. They illustrate his first ever scientific theory, all about coral reef formation. 

Giant Turbinaria coral – one metre wide with many layers, it was home to thousands of marine creatures. 

Giant clam – weighing the same as 300 bags of sugar, this is the largest of all living bivalves. It is currently at threat of extinction due to overfishing. 

Giant grouper – a gentle giant that is easy to catch, and vulnerable to overfishing. At over three metres long – similar in size to a large motorcycle – it is the largest bony fish on coral reefs. 

Sea fan – a delicate lace-like structure that helps to filter food out of the water and is home to seahorses and nudibranchs.