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Creating and Restoring Colorful Coral

Jessica Nishimoto restoring coral

As a part-time Aquarist, Jessica Nishimoto has found a creative and unique way to rejuvenate the colorful coral in some of our largest exhibits. Her love of art and passion for marine life have come together as she works to restore fabricated coral in the Tropical Pacific gallery.

Unfinished restored coral pieces

Painting and restoring coral has become one of the favorite parts of my job. I got this idea from Angelina Komatovich (an Aquarist also known as the octopus whisperer) who successfully restored some pieces in the exhibits of the Northern Pacific gallery. After seeing how well it turned out, I thought we could do the same with the amazing collection of fabricated coral in the Tropical Pacific galleries. And so I began my mission to beautify Tropical Pacific.

Fabricated coral before cleaning

Each piece requires some prep before I begin painting. Since most of the coral in Tropical Pacific have been there since the Aquarium opened in 1998, they have lost a lot of color and grown a layer of encrusted invertebrates. Lucky for me, we have some amazing volunteers who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and are able to clean the pieces I’m going to work on.

Jessica experimenting with oranges and yellows on this piece of coral

After a piece has been fully cleaned and dried, it’s on to painting. Determining which colors to use is probably the hardest part to get right. I do a lot of research on native coral pigments in tropical areas of the Pacific Ocean to get an idea of the colors that are typical to the region. After testing numerous combinations, I’ve found that reds, yellows, and oranges tend to look the brightest and work best in our exhibits.

Finished pieces in the Tropical Pacific gallery

It’s also important to take into account where these coral will be placed within the tank. If I paint a piece too bright, the coral can look garish and end up being a distraction to the guest viewing the exhibit. However, if those vibrant pieces are placed further back, they tend to look more natural.

Finished pieces in the Tropical Pacific gallery

Not only does the coral look beautiful in the exhibits, but it seems to be an enriching experience for the animals too. Our colorful fish appear to be more attracted to the newly repainted pieces and a few of them have even transformed in color to mimic their bright new surroundings.

I hope to expand on this project someday and am currently researching ways that we can attempt to cast and mold new pieces of coral. In the meantime, see if you can spot the restored pieces placed around our exhibits the next time you visit our Tropical Pacific gallery!

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In Focus

Monday, August 07, 2017