[Disclaimer: Sorry fellow cephalopod lovers, there are no octopuses in this post.]
The marine environment is vast – but only a small fraction of it contains the habitat where most people want to dive and most animals want to live. Coral reefs are one such habitat – the corals and sponges provide crags and crevasses for swarms of fish and invertebrates to seek refuge, and in turn for people to use for fishing and tourism. Unfortunately, healthy coral reefs are less abundant than they were 50 years ago for numerous reasons: overfishing, pollution, disease and bleaching, and destruction by boats and overuse.
One man’s solution to this last problem is to create new beautiful or interesting sculpture gardens where people can go for diving and recreational use, which will also attract the corals, fish and invertebrates traditionally associated with natural reefs. The figures sculpted by Jason deCaires Taylor are made of concrete – which provides a settlement substrate for algae and coral recruits. Some sculptures, like the VW bug (see below), have been designed with invertebrate-attracting features, such as hideouts for lobster – and one human figure has holes into which staghorn coral fragments have been placed to grow into new colonies (these fragments were apparently the result of a previous coral garden – not removed directly from the reef – since this is an endangered species*). The artist has ‘installed’ two sculpture museum parks in the Caribbean, one in Moliniere Bay, Grenada, and one off the coast of Mexico, near Isla Mujeres/Cancun. Apparently I missed the memo last year about this, because the Grenada sculptures were listed by National Geographic as a ‘wonder of the world’, and I only learned recently through the npr blog.
I am captivated by this creative idea, but with the caveat that such projects should only be taken on with careful planning to promote conservation effects and minimize any negative impacts on natural reef communities. As with much art, some of the results are more beautiful to my eye than others, and some express more social commentary than others. One of the aspects of this art that intrigues me is that the sculptures are ephemeral – intended not to exist forever as the artist made them, rather to be lost over time, and perhaps like Phoenician amphora, they will be rediscoverd after thousands of years…
*check out the cervicornis growth in La Jardinera del la Esperanza.