British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor merged art and environmental activism in his newest art piece in the Great Barrier Reef.

August 04, 2020
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Jason deCaires Taylor

Fine art has found new depths — literally — as the Southern Hemisphere’s first underwater museum, the Museum of Underwater Art, welcomed visitors to its Coral Greenhouse exhibit in Townsville, Australia, this past weekend.

Sitting 59 feet underwater on the ocean floor at Great Barrier Reef Marine Park’s John Brewer Reef, the 64-ton art piece by British sculpture Jason deCaires Taylor has a 40-foot skeletal structure with 20 statues depicting students working with coral, as well as three sculptures of local flora, like eucalyptus and umbrella palm.

Matt Curnock
Matt Curnock

“When we talk about reefs, we’re very much talking about what we’re leaving for younger generations,” Taylor, who was also a scuba diving instructor, told CNBC. “I also wanted to encourage more youth into marine science and into exploring and understanding the underwater world.”

Built using corrosion-resistant stainless steel and pH-neutral cement compounds, the art also has a dual environmental role, as the material will help incite natural coral growth. “The beam sections provide minimal resistance to wave energy, while providing an ideal surface for filter-feeding organisms and schooling fish to congregate,” the artist told The Guardian, adding that he hopes the space will also be a refuge for animals like sea urchins and octopuses.

Completed last December, the exhibit was set to open to snorkelers and divers in April before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Instead, after an underwater ribbon-cutting ceremony, the first guests took a dive on Aug. 2 by booking a spot with one of the operators running boat tours to the site two hours (about 50 miles) off the coast of Townsville.

“When tourists scuba dive the site, it will evolve from being a water-sports activity to both a marine science and a cultural experience,” the artist told Fast Company.

Matt Curnock

Coral Greenhouse is just one of the Museum of Underwater Art’s four exhibits. Ocean Siren — the only one that is visible above water from land in Townsville — is a 16-foot-tall depiction of 12-year-old Takoda Johnson, a member of the local land’s Wulgurukaba people. Installed in December, the structure’s LED lights change colors based on the water temperature of the Davies Reef, symbolizing the impact of climate change on ocean temperatures, with blue indicating safe while a dark red is a critical warning.

The two other sections of the museum are scheduled for completion in 2021 — Palm Island in June and Magnetic Island in December.