A live coral reef and a panoramic virtual dive are just some of the amazing sights in store for visitors to the new exhibition, Coral Reefs: Secret Cities of the Sea. It runs at the Natural History Museum, 27 March, in partnership with Catlin Group Limited. The exhibition tells the story of how corals play an essential role, not just for animals that live in and around them, but also for human well-being.Two hundred and fifty specimens from the Museum’s coral, fish and marine invertebrate collection are featured, alongside stunning images collected by the Catlin Seaview Survey.

The start of the exhibition is surprisingly somber. The coral skeletons on display lack the stunning colors of live corals, which come from their symbiotic photosynthetic algae. But these pale scaffolding’s also reveal the stark beauty and magnificent diversity of coral forms and clarify their amusing common names: the potato chip, birds-nest and brain corals sit alongside their stag horn, bladed fire and organ pipe cousins.1501080211natural-history-museum-london

The museum is home to life and earth science specimens comprising some 80 million items within five main collections: botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. The museum is a world-renowned center of research specializing in taxonomy, identification and conservation. Given the age of the institution, many of the collections have great historical as well as scientific value, such as specimens collected by Charles Darwin. The museum is particularly famous for its exhibition of dinosaur skeletons and ornate architecture—sometimes dubbed a cathedral of nature—both exemplified by the large Diplodocus cast which dominates the vaulted central hall. The Natural History Museum Library contains extensive books, journals, manuscripts, and artwork collections linked to the work and research of the scientific departments; access to the library is by appointment only.

The 4-tonne aquarium was created in collaboration with London’s Horniman Museum, whose holdings range across natural history and anthropology. Their Project Coral team are attempting to mimic the just-right combination of environmental cues under which corals spawn, in the hope of testing how changing oceans might affect coral reproduction.If you’ve ever wanted to see coral reefs but don’t fancy getting wet then London’s Natural History Museum may be the place for you.The museum’s new show plunges into the underwater world, featuring a “virtual dive” that provides a 180-degree view of five coral reefs controlled by a joystick, including one vista with a manta ray in Komodo Island, Indonesia.