February Author Talks


“Where Corals Lie”

by Malcolm Shick, Ph.D.

Wednesday, February 27

6:00 - 8:00 PM

Lecture Hall

Books will be available for purchase.

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About the book and presentation

For millennia, corals were a marine enigma, organisms that confounded scientific classification and occupied a space between the animal and plant kingdoms, and even had mineral properties. Our cultural relationships with corals have been similarly ambiguous. The danger posed by unseen underwater reefs led to an association of corals with death and interment that has figured in literature, poetry, music, and film, while the bright redness of precious Mediterranean coral was associated in European and Indian mythology with its bloody origin. And yet, coral skeletons have long been prized as jewelry and ornament, featuring prominently in antique cabinets of curiosities.

Seen as rainforests of the sea, coral reefs have become emblematic of the fragility of marine biodiversity, their declining health a warning sign of the human-driven climate change that has produced warming seas, ocean acidification, and rising sea levels. Looking at corals as builders of islands and protectors of coastlines, as building materials themselves, as well as at the myriad ways in which diverse corals have come to figure in art, medicine, folklore, geopolitics, and international trade, Professor Shick’s book Where Corals Lie (Reaktion Books, London) reveals how the threatening has become threatened—and recalls the danger this poses to humans.

The book is embellished with a wide range of biological illustrations, underwater photography, and fine art, many examples of which will be shown in this talk that opens the door onto these most peculiar of animals and explores the synergies among fine art, literature, music, mythology, and science, telling us “Where Corals Lie” in the human experience and imagination.

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About the author

Dr. Malcolm Shick is professor emeritus of Zoology and Oceanography at the University of Maine, where he served on the faculty for 40 years, first in the Department of Zoology, then the Department of Biological Sciences, and finally the School of Marine Sciences. He earned his B.S. and M.A. degrees at the College of William & Mary in Virginia and his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University.

Professor Shick conducted field research on reef corals in Bermuda and on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, with complementary laboratory studies in Orono, and at the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Centre Scientifique de Monaco. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1984) and received UMaine’s Presidential Research and Creative Achievement Award (1992) as well as the Presidential Outstanding Teaching Award (2014). He has served on the advisory boards of the University of Maine Museum of Art and the Maine (Collins) Center for the Arts. In addition to his many scientific publications, he recently (2018) published his second book, Where Corals Lie: A Natural and Cultural History, which emanated from his teaching and research.

You can find out more about Dr. Shick and his work on the UMaine staff page by clicking here.

Book reviews

Shick_Review Quotes from the publisher:

Charlie Veron, author of  “Corals of the World” and “A Life Underwater”

“Spectacularly illustrated, beautifully written, and compellingly original, Where Corals Lie takes us from bizarre notions of antiquity to today’s environmental crises in a triumphant amalgam of art and science.”

Robert Calcagno, CEO, Oceanographic Institute—Prince Albert I of Monaco Foundation

“Coral bleaching is one of the fastest and most significant consequences of global warming. Where Corals Lie stands out by giving cultural and spiritual significance to this environmental disaster. Shick masterfully brings forward the symbolical and intellectual value of corals and leads us to the crucial question: are we really willing to lose such a treasure?”

Vicki Buchsbaum Pearse, Institute of Marine Sciences, University California, Santa Cruz

“As a biologist familiar with corals, I found this book’s concept extremely appealing and intriguing. Its all-embracing scope combined with the author’s wonderful curiosity and diligent scholarship have together resulted in a remarkable collection of richly illustrated accounts and stories. I know of no other book like it.”

Nancy Knowlton, Smithsonian Natural History Museum

Where Corals Lie takes the reader on a widely ranging and richly illustrated tour of corals, not just their biology and currently threatened state, but also how their history interweaves with ours. It is beautifully written and deeply informed on an astonishing range of topics—a book where science shares the table with figures as diverse as Ovid and Obama.”