Monthly Archives: January 2012

Scary-hairy, beastly bugs…

Olivia, aged 6, with a Victorian stereoscope
Olivia, aged 6, with a Victorian Stereoscope

I recently attended some training about how museums can be places to improve people’s wellbeing. During the event I had the opportunity to hear some brilliant case studies from organisations across England and was touched by some of the outcomes they had achieved.  

The focus on the day was not about what people could learn from museums, or about how much success these projects bought to museum visitor figures or finances – it was about how museums can create happiness, peace of mind and in some cases a distraction for people going through difficult periods of their life.

This got me thinking about the work the Herbert do to help the wellbeing of others. For around a year now I have been going onto the children’s ward at Coventry’s University Hospital, taking with me a selection of objects from the handling collections. This initially got started through the MLA’s Learning Links programme, but has since continued, due to the positive outcomes we have seen from the work we do. I go onto the wards once a month, and spend the afternoon going around children’s bedsides, or working with them in the hospital classroom, to give the children a hands-on approach to learning and access to the museums collections during their stay in hospital. Before we launched the project I had concerns over whether or not the children would actually want to get involved with this. My feeling was that when you are in hospital you would probably want to avoid strangers because of the vulnerable state you get into when feeling ill or recovering from an operation. However, I also remembered an experience of being in hospital for the short space of a day when I was a teenager and remember it being pretty boring! So for those who are there on either a short-term or long-term basis, something a little different might just be what they are looking for. 

Luckily for me the patients, aged from 4 – 17, have really got involved with the objects I bring to their bedsides, and what makes it even nicer is that they get their parents and the hospital staff involved too. I’ve had some fantastic memories made from my time on the children’s ward, with one visit in particular standing out in my mind.

The scary-hairy tarantula

The scary-hairy tarantula

I had taken a collection of beastly bugs into the hospital (I thought this would be funny as it is what hospitals try usually to avoid at all costs), and was working with a teenage girl. She had been in and out of hospital for quite a while, and had sunk into a bit of a depression over being ill and being separated from her friends all the time. On this day, I went to her bedside and showed her the bugs I had with me. It took a bit of encouragement for her to hold the block that encased a scary-hairy tarantula, but eventually she started to explore its many qualities. After looking at this for a while she placed it down on her bedside table, at which point a nurse walked into the room to run some tests. Before she had the chance though, she spotted the tarantula and thinking it was real ran screaming from the room. The teenage girl burst into laughter, causing her mother to start laughing, then me and then the nurse who had bravely ventured back into the room realising what was going on. This itself made the experience brilliant, but what really moved me was that as I was leaving the ward for the day, the girl’s mother ran up to me to say thank you for making her daughter smile… it was the first time she had laughed in 3 weeks.

– Lisa


Object of the Month – January 2012

Piece of Acropora Palmata Coral

Acropora palmata coral

While cataloguing the coral collection in the Herbert museum, I came across this species of Acropora coral.

Acropora are a genera of coral that contains at least 149 separate species. Acropora palmata has been the subject of recent conservation efforts as its numbers have suffered dramatically in the last 30 years. Acropora palmata is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This is the tier before ‘extinct in the wild’.

Acropora palmata is found in the Caribbean Sea, Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and the Bahamas. These corals primarily live in shallow waters with temperatures between 26 °C and 30 °C.

Corals rely on zooxanthellae, which are photosynthetic protozoa that embed themselves in coral tissue. The zooxanthellae receive protection from predators and in return supply the coral with approximately 90% of its energy from their photosynthetic byproducts.  These protozoa are extremely sensitive to variations in water temperature and will leave the coral tissue if long periods of temperature change occur. The result is ‘bleached’ coral as the colourful zooxanthellae leave. Global warming, the rise in sea levels and temperatures have massively affected the symbiotic relationship between corals and these protozoa.

Corals are also suffering world-wide because they are extremely susceptible to pollution, acidification of the sea and changes in ocean salinity. Human activities such as tourism and fishing also pose a threat to coral.

All these factors have affected corals on the global level, but the spread of an aggressive disease called ‘White band disease’ has hit the Acropora palmata species hard. It is estimated that 80-98% of the wild population has been wiped out in the last 30 years.

It is entirely possible that Acropora palmata could soon only be alive in cultivated aquariums.

Sam Caulfield-Kerney

University of Leicester work placement student

Acropora palmata in the wild

 Acropora palmata in the wild.

Photo by Nick Hobgood. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

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