Earlier this month, the new Spotlight Gallery exhibition, Ocean Blues, opened at Brighton Museum. The Spotlight Gallery, which previously held the Chilled to the Bone: Ice Age Sussex exhibition was created to allow changing exhibitions of around one year duration showcasing collections which have been in long term storage or which have never been previously displayed. This specific theme was chosen to help highlight some major ecological concerns faced both locally and globally.
This new exhibition looks at some of the man made problems faced by the marine environment, and is separated into three themes – Overfishing and Bycatch, Pollution and a final case looking at conservation and other initiatives to help protect the marine environment.
The first theme on overfishing and bycatch gives a brief overview of different destructive fishing methods, before turning its focus onto the various methods of tuna production. It looks at how large scale commercial tuna fishing is destructive to thousands of other species caught in longline ‘dolphin friendly’ fisheries, which decimate seabird populations, and Fish Aggregation Device (FAD) supported purse seine fisheries, which capture huge numbers of other species along with the tuna.
The second case focuses on plastic pollution as one of the greatest threats faced by our seas. Plastics are a fantastically versatile material, with one very major drawback – they never goes away. Almost every piece of plastic ever made is still in existence somewhere on the planet. Instead of rotting away, plastic breaks up into ever smaller pieces. With massively increased levels of plastic production over the last decade — especially in disposable, single use plastics — this has led to plastic polluting the seas, from large chunks capable of choking whales all the way down to micro plastics on a planktonic scale. This section then continues to look at some other pollutants in the oceans, as well as some unusual effects of pollution, including its contribution to piracy off the coast of Somalia.
The final case looks at some of the things we are doing locally and internationally to help reduce the problems faced by our seas. We look at more sustainable fishing, using new technology and different methods to drastically reduce the number of other species bycaught, including the use of streamers on longlines and longline fishing at night – both of which reduce bird fatalities. We also look at both the positives and negatives of aquaculture, and highlight some of the better choices in farmed seafood. The second focus of this case is on Marine Conservation Zones (MCZ’s). These zones are designed to help protect important and vulnerable marine environmnents from destructive human activities. Brighton is particularly well placed in having one of the first MCZs stretching from Brighton Marina to Beachy Head. We also look at the species which will be protected if the Beachy Head East MCZ – stretching from Beachy Head to Hastings, and currently under consideration – is protected. Finally we look at methods to reduce plastic waste entering the environment. This ranges from recycling plastic to developing new materials – illustrated by some cutting edge new bioplastic made by the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. This plastic has been made from waste prawn shells from the food industry, which currently go to fertiliser production or landfill. After use the bioplastic rots away naturally, or can be used in fertiliser production.
As a showcase for underused collections this exhibition uses a large quantity of material which has not been on display either since entering the museum, or since the mid-20th century. These include a 3 month old wandering albatross chick, seal and dolphin skeletons, an otter, and several spirit preserved specimens.
There has also been an increase in the provision of handling objects and multimedia, in response to feedback from the previous exhibition. The popular cave bear skull has been replaced with a replica False Killer Whale skull, but this has been supplemented by a number of other handling objects supporting the stories discussed in the exhibition. We have also kindly been provided video footage by both Greenpeace and the Plastic Oceans Foundation, and these clips feature in the gallery. We also have a printed gallery trail linked to the handling objects and multimedia aspects, designed to be easily usable by those with visual impairments.
I hope you enjoy the exhibition, and would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who helped put together the exhibition, especially Georgina, Mike, Steve, Roy, Russ, Alex, Kerrie, Peter, Alexia and Derek, all of whom were instrumental in getting the exhibition finished on time.
Lee Ismail, Curator of Natural Sciences