Colleen Flanigan

TED Fellow, Ocean Activist & Artist

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Colleen Flanigan | TED Fellow, Ocean Activist & Artist
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Colleen Flanigan has spent the past 10 years uniting art and science to create her Living Sea Sculptures: coral nurseries and reef forms that protect and regenerate underwater ecosystems. In impassioned talks, this TED Fellow draws on her work to describe the powerful effects of transdisciplinary collaboration: to innovate, solve problems, and achieve more than ever. 

In 2003, Colleen Flanigan learned that coral reefs were dying all around the world. Leveraging her background in design and sculpture, she decided to start making Living Sea Sculptures as the artistic sister to the Global Coral Reef Alliance. By utilizing Biorock® mineral accretion, her projects stimulate reef growth two to six times the regular rate while artistically highlighting our intrinsic connection to the sea. Flanigan is developing an interactive, multimedia exhibit correlating human health with coral health to reveal biological intersections between species and cultivate a healthier perspective on our shared earth. Flanigan also creates ball-and-socket skeletons for stop-motion animation puppets, most notably Coraline.


“As the temperature and acidity of the world's oceans continue to rise under the effects of global warming, these new sculptures offer corals a vital alkaline environment... The project embodies our highest ideals, a beautiful cross-pollination of art, science, and moral imagination...”

The Atlantic

Colleen Flanigan exhibits artwork nationally and internationally, including designing and making installations for schools and children's museums. To raise awareness and engage people in public spaces, she creates socio-ecological alter egos, such as "Miss Snail Pail: A Healthy Alternative to Pesticides" and "TrashTara: Compassionate Deity of the Dregs." Her activities while attired in these conversation-catalyzing wearable artworks are a unique form of interactivist performance with the capacity to initiate shifts in behavior and relationships with natural resources and pollution. "Miss Snail Pail" is the protagonist of a short documentary, On the Trail with Miss Snail Pail, that was selected for the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, among others. She taught jewelry and sculpture, and directs large-scale art installations. With her focus on reef ecosystems, Flanigan leads interactive coral restoration re-enactments in combination with her public speaking on land to make our efforts in the ocean more tangible. From the American Museum of Natural History, to Science Pubs and Maker Faires, she blends visual and verbal engagement to facilitate sensory connection and invite people from all backgrounds into the conversation. In 2015, she was named one of Women for Wildlife's Women Visionaries.    

Speech Topics

Innovation & Creativity
An Ocean of Possibility Fostering Innovation, Creativity, and Mindfulness at Work
Before you start something new, you must ask yourself: what is my goal? How can I be of value to my customers, employees, and the world at large? In this singular talk, Colleen Flanigan draws on her experience in coral reef restoration, art as ecology, and multidisciplinary collaboration to provide a framework for meaningful work. Instead of looking for short-term gain, she steers audiences toward the bigger picture. She provides hands-on, practical advice for building bridges and finding solutions. And, she describes how to foster meaningful innovation through cross-pollination and essential creative energy. Just as our oceans need to be protected and healed, Flanigan teaches us how to take a mindful approach to work and life. She speaks to audiences ranging from the corporate and business world, to college campuses, to artists and designers, to environmental and non-profit groups. 
Merging Art with Environmental Science

Coral reefs are dying. Pollution, dynamite fishing, deep sea trawling, and other human activities have contributed to a swiftly disappearing foundation of the underwater ecosystem. Coral reefs provide an essential habitat for biodiversity in the oceans. Is there any way to save them and help ourselves from losing this required element on our Earth? Artist, TED Senior Fellow, and socio-ecological activist, Colleen Flanigan acts as spokesperson for the seas. In her keynotes, she illustrates the essential links between art and ecology. With her Living Sea Sculptures, she is able to regenerate coral at an accelerated rate, provide innovative shore protection, and create custom fish habitat. As her alter ego, "Amphitrite," she reveals how we can contribute to a healthier balance between land and sea.