Diving for the Appreciation of Art – DeeperBlue.com


The art of creating an artificial reef has changed a lot since environmentalists started looking for ways to save coral reefs that were being destroyed. Early efforts included the sinking of ships and even railway and metro cars. From 1972 to 1974 off the coast of Florida, two million used steel belt tires were deposited between two natural reefs in order to expand the reefs and increase sport fishing in the area. It felt like a win-win situation, unsightly piles of used tires would be removed from view while providing habitat for marine life. The tires were tied together in groups by steel bands and deposited at the site to be called Osborne Reef. The project did not work out as expected, the tires came off and damaged the living reef nearby and nothing grew on the tires. Storms would put hundreds if not thousands of tires on beaches. Efforts to remove the tires have recovered 78,000 and ongoing efforts will remove another 90,000, with plenty left.

Osborne “REEF” tires after 30 years. Marine Public domain Photography

Underwater art galleries

Since then, the “art” and science of building artificial reefs has matured and today’s efforts are productive and safe. In some cases, it is also really art. Since 1965 off Key Largo, the bronze “Christ of the Abyss” statue has attracted divers to this highly recognized work of art, one of many statue dive sites. Museo Atlantico in the Canary Islands is the last art gallery in the world. It is located in Coloradas, Playa Blanca in Lanzarote, but unlike most art galleries, scuba gear is required as this is 12-15 meters deep. The gallery opened in January 2016 after two years of work and currently has around thirty statues, or around 10% of what is currently planned. The artwork was created by Jason deCaires Taylor who is known for his underwater creations.

This TED talk is also available for download with a transcript at TED website.

When completed, the site will feature ten groups of statues, each with its own theme. An upcoming section will be in shallower water for snorkelers and snorkelers, and those who don’t want to get wet will have the option of glass bottom boats.

While there are a number of places with underwater statues, Jason’s work is the new normal. His first major underwater project was the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park in Granada. Hurricanes Ivan (2004) and Emily (2005) caused considerable damage to Grenada both above and below water. Pomegranate has little solid substrate around it. This limits the areas where a coral reef will grow as they need something sturdy to anchor. Molinere Bay was an entirely sandy bay with no coral until sixty-five concrete sculptures were carefully placed in the bay in 2006. Covering an area of ​​over 800 square meters, the coral polyps are said to anchor themselves to the statues and would begin the process of growing and eventually widening covering the statues. The government declared the site a protected area and the park is now a favorite diving and snorkeling destination. No longer sterile but is home to splendid corals and sponges and a large population of marine life. There are plans to expand the site with works by local artists.

Jason Taylor has more than 700 sunk sculptures around the world, the majority of which can be found at MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte) off the coast of Cancun in Mexico. This underwater art museum was designed to relieve pressure on nearby reefs. Cancun Marine Park has one of the highest concentrations of divers in the world with over 750,000 divers visiting each year. This mass of people will tap into natural resources, and just in numbers, damage will occur. Add to that the many student divers, discovery divers and snorkelers who only dive a few times a year and you can imagine the state these natural reefs must be in. MUSA took 420 square meters of barren seabed and provided a place where coral polyps could attach to grow. The underwater museum has two galleries, named Salon Manchones which is eight meters deep and Salon Nizuc which is four meters deep. The Salon Nizuc is reserved for snorkelers, while the Salon Manchones is aimed at both scuba divers and snorkelers. MUSA has become Cancun’s most popular dive site and now boasts over 500 statues covered in corals, sponges, and other marine life.

The Raft of Lampedusa 14m Museo Atlantico, Lanzarote, Spain copyright by Jason deCaires Taylor
The Raft of Lampedusa Museo Atlantico copyright by Jason deCaires Taylor

The first responses to the Museo Atlantico for divers have been exceptional. Although the park is still small, it already offers an exceptional diving experience. As in all underwater galleries made by Taylor, the statues are made from a pH neutral cement with environmentally friendly reinforcing materials. This is the same process that organizations like Reef Ball use.

Join the fun

These parks are very popular, but have you thought if you could do something about it locally? When the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources sank the coastal freighter dubbed “Lulu” off the state’s coast, it made much of the local diving industry. However, wrecks cannot be closer than 50 feet from the surface at their highest point. This places most wrecks beyond the training guidelines for open water divers and junior divers. Lila Harris of Down Under Dive Shop suggested creating a new dive site closer to shore and in shallow water. The result is Poseidon’s playground just a few miles offshore and less than 40 feet of water. A number of statues have already been put in place and more are in the works. They will eventually have underwater “playground” equipment that makes it look like a sunken park, and plans are in place for adding “memorial” monuments. The initial statues are already covered in coral and marine life has increased. It’s a long-term plan, but it’s a good start. Think about your local dive group starting something like this.

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