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Exhibit is a short course in tsunami science

Associated Press

The photo depicts a crowd of new boats pulled up to shore, their brilliant blue-and-red paint jobs shiny in the sun. But on land, last year’s tsunami’s devastation is still evident: a coastline devoid of trees, a shack in the background that is falling apart.

“It’s in some ways very hopeful, but even a year afterward, it really shows that there’s more to be done,” said Mike Sarna, director of exhibits at the Notebaert Nature Museum.

The photograph is part of a new exhibit at the museum, called “Tsunami: Science and Hope,” that centers on the earthquake-spawned tidal waves on Dec. 26, 2004, that left at least 216,000 people dead or missing in 12 Indian Ocean nations.

The exhibit is small, consisting of 20 photos and several exhibits that examine the scientific underpinnings of this particular tsunami and others in history. A map shows the locations of the few tsunami warning systems that currently exist, mostly off the coast of the northwestern United States, and where officials hope to place more than a dozen more.

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Despite its limited scope, the exhibit is unique in that it resulted from a relationship the museum has developed with Heifer International, a group that seeks to combat poverty and world hunger by providing families in dozens of countries with animals they can use to support themselves.

After last year’s tsunami, the museum’s employees decided they wanted to band together and contribute to charitable relief efforts. But they wanted to ensure that the donation from their museum -- small when compared with huge Chicago institutions like the Field Museum and Museum of Science and Industry -- stretched as far as possible.

One employee was familiar with Little Rock, Ark.-based Heifer International, and museum staff members liked how its philosophy of sustainability meshed with the Notebaert’s mission to inspire people to learn about and care for nature and the environment, Sarna said.

The museum did not do any fundraising outside its walls. Instead, its 60 employees, board members and volunteers made a $5,000 donation to Heifer International.

For the exhibit, staff at Notebaert, which attracts about 200,000 visitors a year, provided the scientific knowledge. Heifer International provided the photos, all taken in the last few weeks in Indonesia’s hard-hit Aceh province.

One of the photos captures a bricklayer making repairs to a mosque, and another shows a group of chickens nesting in a shack built on poles over the water. There are no shots of bodies or gravesites or crying children.

“We didn’t want to exploit the event,” Sarna said. “We talk about the science and the disaster. We show the devastation and destruction, but we purposely did not include photos of dead bodies.”

The photos will be on exhibit through Jan. 29.

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