Museums have come a long way since the days of “walk, look but don’t touch” and museums are no longer just on land, some of the most spectacular are where you least expect to find them. So, on International Museums Day – May 18, lets take a dive into an underwater sculpture museum.
At a time when our ocean’s coral reefs are in crisis we need to look for help from many sources. One fascinating area asks, can we produce artificial reefs that are not susceptible to ocean warming and coral bleaching and still provide a habitat for marine life? What if we can create artificial reefs that are works of art. One sculptor thinks we can.
Giant Figures Below Atlantic Waters
If you are diving off Lanzarote in Spain’s Canary Islands you will not be alone. You will be swimming amongst 200 life-sized figures that inhabit Europe’s first underwater sculpture museum.
Created by the British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor the figures are 14 meters below the surface of the Atlantic and each sculpture is molded from environmentally friendly, pH neutral material that forms an artificial reef, a natural habitat for marine life and plants.
The Atlantic Museum of Lanzarote is already frequented by “angel sharks, barracuda, sardines and octopus” reads a museum statement.
“The Raft of Lampedusa” is an installation that pays tribute to the ordeal endured by refugees who crossed the Mediterranean in the recent migrant crisis.
The project began in February 2016 when the first pieces were installed and is accessible to snorkelers and scuba divers.
500 Figures inhabit MUSA Underwater Sculpture Museum
In 2009, Taylor created a similar underwater sculpture museum in the Caribbean between Cancun and Isla Mujeres off Mexico’s Yucatan. The Museo Subacuatico de Arte or MUSA features over 500 life-sized figures and has become a world famous, dive attraction since it opened. Tourists can also see the figures through the windows of a glass-bottom boat. (photo – Luis Javier Sandoval)
Installed in an area of damaged reefs, MUSA’s intension is to create an artificial habitat that would attract both tourists and recolonize the ocean floor with marine life.
Grenada home to the first Underwater Sculpture Museum
Jason deCaires Taylor’s first project was The Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park located off the west coast of the Caribbean island of Grenada. It opened in 2006 as the world’s first underwater sculpture park and a badly needed artificial reef in an area extensively damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Emily a year later. The work has been included in National Geographic’s Top 25 Wonders of the World.
It can take from 10 to 80 years for hard corals to develop, while the textured surfaces of Taylor’s sculptures encourages coral polyps to attach, eventually forming natural reefs inhabited by a variety of marine life. As our images show Taylor’s sculptures have quickly become a home to an “array of aquatic life: including, flounders, parrot fish, Branded coral shrimp and fire worms.
“The underwater sculpture gallery is a project aiming to create a unique space which highlights environmental processes and explores the complex relationships between art and its environment.” Says Taylor in Symposium Magazine.
The Shipwreck Trail and Herod’s Harbor
If traveling to Key Largo in the Florida Keys you can find additional underwater sculpture museums, plus you can explore nearly a dozen sunken ships resting in the shallow waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Sunk over a span of three hundred years this underwater archaeological preserve guides divers through with lots of information on each vessel’s maritime history and clues to the marine life that makes these wrecks home.
For more archaeological experiences visit Herod’s Harbor in Israel and visit what remains of a Roman seaport. Now at a depth of 20 feet divers can examine ancient marble columns, anchors and shipwrecks from the Phoenician through the Byzantine eras.
Cape Tarkhankut in the Crimea
For something a bit off the usual dive tourism circuit, make a trip to Cape Tarkhankut on the Black Sea. Crimea’s been in the news since the Russians invaded several years ago but under the waters of the Black Sea everything’s quiet.
When the U.S.S.R. dissolved in 1991, diver Vladimir Borumensky kept busy by collecting thousands of discarded busts and figures representing the Communist period. Lenin, Stalin, and Marx all take part in this pantheon of Communist icons called the “Alley of Leaders.”
With the passing of time the “alley” has taken on a more cosmopolitan flavor and has grown to more than 50 sculptures, including Paris’s Eiffel Tower and London’s Tower Bridge.
By Robert Frerck
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