Above: A three-year-old Biorock coral nursery; the first Flanigan installed, in Bali.

The next year, Flanigan headed to the Bali Sea for her first project. After constructing and welding the steel structure on land, she and fellow team members suited up, attached floats to the sculpture, and swam out with it to the reef; then they removed the floats and submerged the piece 20 feet below the surface to the seafloor. Over the next week, Flanigan spent hours underwater wiring baby coral fragments to the steel, where, once electrified, they would grow more rapidly. "I was high on adrenaline," she says. "I didn't want to get out of the water!" A decade later, her Bali project is part of the largest coral nursery of its kind—nearly 1,000 feet long.

Today the TED senior fellow is awaiting the final permits to install her most ambitious piece yet, for the Cancún Underwater Museum: a 15-foot sculpture inspired by DNA helices that will become part of the seriously endangered Mesoamerican Reef. "People always say it's too late for corals," Flanigan says. "Not if I can help it!"


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