Art with heart: underwater sculptures help Cancun’s damaged coral

I was pleased to hear that Cancun has devised an underwater museum as a new tourist attraction.Jason de Caires Taylor's new underwater museum in Cancun Not because I thought the world necessarily needed an underwater museum (more on that later) but because this is good news for the threatened coral reefs in the Cancun area.

The massive expansion of tourism over the last 40 years has led to the rapid decline in the quality of the reef.

Coral everywhere faces the threat of bleaching because water is getting warmer because of climate change. But in highly-developed Cancun, pollution by sewage and chemicals and overfishing mean the coral in this region is dying faster than anywhere else.

The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network says the amount of reef surface covered by live coral in the Caribbean has fallen about 80% in the past 30 years. In the Pacific, between Hawaii and Indonesia, meanwhile, reefs have been losing about 1% of their coral coverage annually over the past 25 years. eTurboNews spoke to Cancun dive instructors who said they were worried they might not have a job for much longer.Jason de Caires Taylor's new underwater museum in Cancun

Cancun knew it needed to address the problem, but the country desperately needs its tourist dollars, and Cancun couldn’t turn divers and snorkellers away.

By building the underwater museum – which in effect becomes an artificial reef – there is something new for divers and snorkellers to explore, and the existing coral reef is given chance to recover from years of damage. I doubt it’ll ever get back to its original condition but coral will colonise the inert concrete of the sculptures, creating new coral coverage.

I must admit, the thought of an ‘underwater museum’ didn’t really float my boat at first – I dive to see wildlife, not for cultural enrichment.

Jason de Caires Taylor's new underwater museum in Cancun

But when I checked out the website of Jason de Caires Taylor, the British artist behind the project, I really warmed to the  idea.

‘Museum’ is a bit misleading – it will be more of a sculpture garden, with more than 300 life-size sculptures, such as an army of Mayan warriors, and a ‘dream catcher’ where visitors can leave a message in a bottle. I recognised the photos of his existing project – Taylor built the Underwater Gallery at Moliniere Bay in Grenada.

His description of what it’s like to experience artwork underwater sounds fantastic:

“Underwater and devoid of white walls the viewer is unrestrained in their interaction with the work. Buoyancy and underwater museumweightlessness enable a detached physical experience, encouraging encounters that are perceptual and personal. As time passes and the works change, they reshape and redefine the underwater landscape in unpredictable ways.”

And the sculptures that have been submerged for some time, now covered in coral polyps and other growth, are really stunning.

Sinking a load of concrete statues is not going to solve the massive and complex threats that coral reefs around the world face but the Underwater Museum does seem like an exciting and innovative step in the right direction.

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