A dive into the Blue World

A group of people holding up large sheets of ocean colouring in sheets

Blue World is a Sydney-based project dedicated to catalysing ocean protection and building support for our ocean by utilising science, culture and creativity, community and business action.

Merran Hughes is a board member and artist in resident at Blue World. She is an artist and community-cultural worker with a passion for conservation and the ocean.

“I began ocean swimming for the fitness and relaxation during the Sydney 2020 lockdowns. I soon came to understand how many amazing species live in Sydney’s coastal waters. Every day we would see different marine life- bull rays, Port Jackson Sharks, wobbegongs, giant cuttle fish. I came to understand what incredible diversity we have in Sydney’s coastal waters. But sadly, I have also seen how vulnerable it is to pressures like pollution.

“I co-founded Blue World with some friends. Our aim is to build ocean literacy and support for ocean protection at a local level. We figure that if our community understands and cares about the very special marine habitats we have in NSW, then it is easier to build support for marine parks and other ocean restoration and sustainability practices.”

For National Science Week 2022 Blue World presented a virtual dive in Sydney’s coastal waters with colouring workshops for kids, families and adults at Waverley Library.

Merran created a series of large scale drawing sheets that beautifully captured local Sydney sea-life. UNSW Sydney PhD student Zuhairah Dindar cut together dive footage which is used as data for UNSW marine science research. The video was created on the sea country of Gamay off the Kurnell Peninsula.  

“I wanted to share my love for the amazing sea-life right here in Sydney. Many people who travel to the tropics to see corals have never snorkelled in their own back yard. I have been very lucky to collaborate with marine scientist, Zuhairah Dindar, who also a very talented science communicator” says Merran.

“In our workshops Zuhairah has explained her research and the importance of kelps in particular, for the health of Sydney’s coastal habitats. Our underwater forests and beautiful seaweeds allow other wonderful species to thrive. For example, the cray weed’s name came from the cray fish and abalone that like to live there. Zuhairah and I wished to inspire wonder and interest in our coastal waters. Our ecosystems are very rich. There are more than 700 species of fish in Sydney Harbour alone. That is more than the whole Mediterranean Sea!”

The Science Week workshops were a great success, with the kids asking Merran wonderful questions while they coloured in the giant sheets.

“One child asked me if sea horses were a special kind of marsupial. It was a brilliant question, because male seahorses do have a specialised brood pouch. I loved the connection made with different kind of pouches, although of course the sea horse is a fish.

“The kids were also amazed to discover that the giant cuttle fish can change colour and mimic their surroundings. This colour control is directed by neurons extended from their brain to their skin. One child then asked, ‘So they think with their skin?’  It is kind of true! Their camouflage abilities are amazing to see in person. You have to wonder how they collect all that information from their environment and mimic it so brilliantly.”

Merran has worked on many community-cultural projects. She designed giant marine lanterns with local community groups as part of Festivilion, at Bondi Pavilion. Many of these lanterns still hang in Waverley Library and in local schools.

In 2020 Merran worked on the Havens sculpture project. In consultation with community groups and University of Sydney scientists, she designed public sculptures with garden elements, that focused on providing habitat for inner-city wildlife. “The idea was to create small sanctuaries, where wrens and lizards could live, safe from dogs and cats. They work like open birdcages.” Her sculpture has been shortlisted by Inner-West council and hopefully will be installed on the Greenway.

“I really love collaborating with scientists and using my own skill set to work for conservation.” says Merran.

More information and download the colouring sheets 

There are still some tickets left for the adult Colour & Sip workshop at Waverly Library on Friday 19 August, 6 to 8pm. Booking information

Images: Participants of the Ocean World Virtual Dive and Colouring workshop, Waverly Library, Saturday 13 August 2022.