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An Exploration into the Magnificent Coral World 2019-07-16
Colorful, fantastic coral reefs in the Maldives and Great Barrier Reef attract millions of tourists every year. While Hangzhou’s nearby marine environment isn’t favorable for coral, an ongoing exhibition at the China National Wetland Museum means locals don’t have to travel thousands of kilometers to learn about the beauty and importance of coral reefs.

Much of the exhibit is based on promoting environmental protection of the world’s oceans.

The exhibit is divided into a section on the geographical and biological aspects of corals and another about the history of the marine invertebrates.

Chinese have long considered corals a precious resource. Traditional Chinese medicine considers coral as something that can help strengthen body, accelerate blood circulation and soothe the nerves. Corals were also used to make luxurious jewelry in olden times.

Most of the corals in the ocean today formed after the last glacial period when melting ice caused sea levels to rise, flooding the continental shelves. This means most coral reefs are nearly 10,000 years old.

Chinese often refer to coral as a millennial treasure due to its long formation process. Red corals are especially popular in China as the color is considered auspicious and religious meanings have been attached to the marine invertebrates.

Red corals with a hard and transparent texture are considered the best quality since they can be used for engraving. Unlike other noble metals, red coral is alive before it is made into accessories and artifacts. Its rarity means red coral carvings have been treasured items in art collections since ancient times.

During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the royal family and officials had to wear red coral necklaces on formal occasions. However, the use of red coral varied according to social status.

Red coral still occupies a high status in Tibetan Buddhism, in which it is considered an incarnation of Tathagata and symbolizes the gem for gods.

Red coral is also considered a mythical substance in Taoism. According to a legend, it only grows off an immortal island named Penglai.

Archeologists have unearthed coral artifacts dating back 10,000 years with the oldest in China found in the Kumul area of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Nonetheless, coral didn’t become popular among the upper-class until the Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road opened between China and Western countries.

Coral from the Mediterranean region began to enter China via the Silk Road in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). It soon became a luxury item for wealthy individuals.

At some point Chinese people began believing that coral would protect them from evil spirits. Even today some keep a coral artifact in the house in the belief that it wards off evil and bad luck.

Corals usually live in compact colonies of many identical individual polyps. The group includes reef builders that inhabit tropical oceans and secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton.

Dubbed the “rainforests of the sea,” corals are significant underwater ecosystems for various marine animals.

However, according to the United Nations Environment Program, 11 percent of corals around the world have already been ruined while a further 60 percent are at risk.

While earthquakes and typhoons can destroy corals, human activity is another main contributor to their destruction. To protect coral, China has listed it as a protected creature and launched a series of regulations on its trade.

Date: Through March 8 (closed on Mondays), 9am-4:30pm

Address: 21 Zijingang Rd, Hangzhou

Admission: Free

Source: Shanghai Daily
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