Marine science discoveries become art

The art exhibit “Macroalgae: Hidden Colors of the Sea” is currently featured at FIU’s Glenn Hubert Library at the Biscayne Bay Campus.

The journey of the art works on display at FIU has been two years in the making.

The watercolors are based on plants and field collections gathered by the FIU Marine Macroalgae Research Lab at the Biscayne National Park during “BioBlitz 2010,” an annual event organized by National Geographic that brings together scientists and naturalists to take a snapshot of an area’s biodiversity. They were created by Tropical Botanic Artists, a collective of artists that set out to pursue the beauty of tropical plants through art.

“The algae used in these works were collected and pressed by students and faculty from the research lab,” said Elizabeth Lacey, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences. “The algae are incredibly diverse, they come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They can look like feathers or balloons and have creative names, like ‘merman’s shaving brush’ and ‘mermaid’s wine glass.’ It’s great to know the inspiration for this art came from our backyard.”

Macroalgae are large-celled, photosynthetic algae. Simply put, they are algae visible to the naked eye. They are a food source to herbivores and live in mangroves, reefs and seagrasses.

“People commonly refer to them as plants, but they really aren’t plants,” Lacey said. “They’re a non-vascular species, they get their nutrients directly from the water instead of through roots like vascular species do. They’re great because they tell a story of what’s going on in the environment and how it’s being affected by human activity.”

FIU marine biologists collected 37 species of algae during the BioBlitz 2010 event. The national park had no established record of macroalgae and these were identified as new.

“As scientists, we’re still learning new things about macroalgae everyday,” Lacey said. “We’re still renaming and recategorizing them. It’s amazing that we’re still trying to figure out where they fit.”

The gallery is made possible by the support of the School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS), Department of Biological Sciences, Marine Sciences Program, BBC Vice-Provost’s Office and

“The macroalgae exhibit is a unique fusion of science and the humanities,” said Elaine Pritzker, coordinator for SEAS. “It exemplifies the mission of our school to help our students and the community understand implicit connections between science, arts and the environment. These algae specimens are a great remind us of the inherent beauty in nature we often forget.”

The exhibit is free and open to the public until Thursday, May 31. It is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and on the weekends with select hours.