Auckland Museum: Moana - My Ocean

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright takes a look underneath the sea at the Auckland War Memorial Museum's Moana - My Ocean exhibition

One of the first messages we read inside the Moana - My Ocean exhibition is that most of the oxygen we breathe was made in the sea by tiny marine plants invisible to the public eye and therefore important for human survival. It makes the exhibition immediately relevant for everyone here.

The exhibition puts into context the weird and wonderful creatures we swim and sail over, as well as highlighting the importance of conservation. It took two years to create in partnership with top marine experts.

We watch birds flying on a wide screen through oversized yellow binoculars and the kids have the task of finding birds with leg bands, those flying in formation or feeding. Anything involving binoculars is always a hit.

Throughout the exhibition there are many chances to follow the life cycle of marine animals, such as the life of a snapper as it grows from a tiny larva into a top predator. There are also snapper skeleton mouths attached to illustrated bodies and giant crayfish claws attached to drawn-in bodies.

We read stories about our oldest marine reserve in Leigh, one of 34 now around the country from the Kermadecs to the sub-Antarctic islands.

There are also things to view under telescopes, and listening stations with underwater symphonies from animals living on a reef - apparently some larvae can hear these sounds from up to 40km away.

One area is set up with a 3D movie with kids - sitting in bean bags wearing 3D glasses - glued to a screen showing an underwater scene. The effect makes you feel like you too are under water.

One mother behind us sits still in her beanbag, exclaiming over and over: "Isn't it amazing, it's just so exciting, I feel like I can just touch it."

That sets all the kids in the room off as they each take turns to touch the screen, daring each other one by one, before a single teenage voice of dissent bursts their bubble: "It's not actually that exciting if you take the 3D glasses off."

Later, we see early 14th century Maori fish-hooks made of two pieces of shaped shell and walk through a room filled with life-sized sharks with dark shiny eyes and menacing smirks.

We sit on the ground watching a Vampire Squid Theatre on the roof of one sectioned-off area and walk past amazingly strange marine creatures, like a goo-squirting shrimp, a whipnose anglerfish that swims upside down and a female anglerfish with smaller male fish, sometimes up to six, who have sniffed her out in the darkness only to attach themselves to her side: and stay there for life.

There is also plenty of coral. One, the bubblegum coral, is the largest living thing on the sea floor and known as the kauri tree of the sea because it can live for more than 400 years.

Where I was growing up opposite a surf beach, most of us wanted to become marine biologists (or the boys: professional surfers).

This exhibition takes me back to those childhood protective feelings towards the ocean. For that reason, Moana - My Ocean is not only a fun morning out with the kids, but it is also an important morning out, showing the next generation how important it is to care for the fragile ocean that surrounds us.

Fishy Business

• The Moana - My Ocean exhibition is on now in the Special Exhibitions Hall of the Auckland War Memorial Museum, The Domain, Maunsell Rd, Parnell; opening hours 10am-5pm, free entry,

• Next time you head to the beach, download the museum's free marine app NZ Marine Life and see what you can spot. NZ Marine Life - available now in the Apple app store.

• See the gorgeous-looking new underwater diving series Descending on the big screen and join a Q&A with its Kiwi host Ellis Emmett. Family sessions, July 19 and 20, 11am. Free.

• Join the nautical Night at the Museum including a "Crossing the Line" party with Neptune and signalling messages across the water to the navy museum. Fish & Ships: Night at the Museum, July 23 to 25 from 6pm. $15 (Door sales $20).

- NZ Herald

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