Australia is opening the Museum of Underwater Art on The Great Barrier Reef, just off the coast of Townsville, Queensland. The museum, designed by Jason deCaires Taylor, is a poignant reminder and warning of the Earth’s rising sea temperatures and aims to inspire conservation of the reef.
The Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) consists of four installations all aimed at inspiring ocean conservation and preservation of the delicate coral reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, it a a UNESCO World Heritage Area and the biggest living structure on the planet. The reef is home to an astounding array of marine life including sea turtles, fascinating reef fish, 400 species of coral and 134 different species of sharks and rays.
Over the last 30 years the coral cover of the reef has declined by 50% due to global warming making the habitat unstable. Water pollution and overfishing are causing marine life numbers to decline dramatically.
Jason deCaires Taylor
British artist and ocean activist, Jason deCaires Taylor, graduated from the London Institute of Arts in 1998 with a BA Honours in Sculpture before moving to North Queensland to become a scuba diving instructor.
Although the largest project Taylor has undertaken, The Museum of Underwater Art is not the first art project to take place underwater (see extreme artist Philip Gray) nor is it the first project for the sculptor alone.
Molinere Bay Underwater Sculpture Park was the first of Taylor’s submerged art projects, and hailed as the first of its kind on Earth. Now recognised as one of National Geographic’s 25 Wonders of the World, the 75 works cover an area of 800 square meters. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan caused significant damage to the reefs in the area and the placement of the statues in Taylor’s project, and the materials used, are purposefully intended to invite coral to resettle on its surface.
In 2009, Taylor launched his M.U.S.A. (Museo Subacuático de Arte) art attraction in Cancun, Mexico, featuring over 500 submerged life-size sculptures. The sculptures were modelled on local fishermen and women from the nearby Isla de Mujeres, who protect and defend their seas. They are made from a cement which attracts coral and placed in an area downstream from the reef, where optimal coral growth can occur after spawning.
Ocean Atlas, located in Nassau, depicts a young, local Bahamian girl carrying the weight of the ocean and is the largest ever sculpture to be submerged underwater. It refers to the Ancient Greek myth of Atlas, the God who held up the heavens, and is intended to empower the youth to take control of ocean conservation, symbolising the burden that older generations have left on them from plastic pollution to overfishing. The statue is cleverly located in a spot that intentionally draw tourists away from the overstressed natural reefs, allowing repopulation in a peaceful environment.
Taylor’s other important works include Museo Atlántico; the first underwater art museum in Europe and the Atlantic Ocean, located in Lanzarote. Nexus, in Norway’s fjords, encourages children to explore art and nature and Coralarium in the Maldives symbolises human dependence on the ocean. His more political works include Plasticide which was produced in collaboration with Greenpeace and installed at the entrance of Coca Cola HQ, and The Pride of Brexit depicts three decrepit lions washed up on Dover Beach.
The first instalment in the Great Barrier Reef project is Ocean Siren, a statue modelled on Takoda Johnson, a 12 year old girl that is a member of the local Wulgurukaba community. The sculpture stands proudly above the ocean waves, changing colour with the temperature of the water according to the Davies Reef weather data and aims to form a connection between the community and the reef.
The second instalment in the reef project is the Coral Greenhouse which lies at the bottom of the ocean, around 2 hours from Townsville by boat. The piece weighs an impressive 64 tons and is designed to withstand a category 4 cyclone. Due to the global pandemic lockdown, the opening of the exhibition has been postponed, however divers and snorkelers will soon be welcomed by tour operators to explore the vast art project.
The 40-foot skeletal structure housing the installation is specially designed to dissipate the ocean’s strong undercurrents, assisting local marine life to settle in the area. Inside, are 20 statues of science students studying the local coral, intended to encourage the local youth to become ambassadors of the ocean.
The final two installations forming the MOUA are planned for completion in 2021 and are set to be located in the Queensland areas of Palm Island and Magnetic Island. The whole project is expected to become a huge draw for tourism to the area in future and the organisers hope that it stimulates and empowers future ocean conservation.
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