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11 Underwater Art Exhibits Where Culture and Coral Collide

Call it the Big-Blue Period.

From snorkelers to squids, everyone’s a critic in the dogfish-eat-dogfish world of underwater art museums. The goal of the submerged sculpture parks, including one that debuted in May at the brand new Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi, is often twofold: add sophistication to a dive spot and rehabilitate damaged or dying coral communities by becoming artificial reefs that entice the creatures who call them home to stay or, in many cases, return.

Whether visiting just-placed pristine pieces or concrete figures that have been morphed by inhabitants, elements, and time, don’t forget to snap a few shots for the ‘Gram. Use a fisheye lens of course.

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Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park

Most underwater galleries are the work of British photographer and sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor. This Caribbean collection, which opened in 2006 within the Molinere Beauséjour Marine Protected Area, was his first. Providing an alternative to the overused Flamingo Bay, 14 installations including “Vicissitudes” (cast from local children) and “The Lost Correspondent” (a journalist at a desk covered in clippings documenting Grenada’s history) made of non-toxic cement and rebar cover 8,600 sandy square feet. Getting there requires a 15-minute boat ride from Grand Anse Beach. If you arrange your snorkel excursion with Dive Grenada, you might be lucky enough to hear tales of the early days of the USP as the owner assisted the artist with statue deployment.

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Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi

Taylor’s latest foray in the Indian Ocean is another first. The eco-friendly exhibit, which opened to guests of the brand new luxury resort Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi (its name means “secret water island”) in May, marks the first attraction of its kind in the independent Arabian Sea archipelago. The centerpiece, the Coral Cube, is also a pioneering piece in that it is the world’s first semi-submerged art space. The artist describes the organic-manmade hybrid as “a portal to the underwater realm that illustrates the connectivity of man with nature, a seamless link between land and ocean.”

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Museo Subacuático de Arte

Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA) has been wowing tourists in the warm waters surrounding Cancun, Isla Mujeres, and Punta Nizuc since it was founded in 2009 by the former president of the Cancun Nautical Association and the director of Mexico’s National Marine Park with three sculptures. Today it features 516 permanent pieces by six artists that collectively weigh more than 200 tons deposited across three galleries spanning 4,521 square feet of thriving sea floor. If you prefer not to swim with the fishes, much of MUSA can be viewed from the dry, enclosed cabin of a glass bottom boat. Urchins poke out of a Volkswagen Bug’s windows, sprouting nubs make the “Man on Fire” look like his skin is disintegrating, and sea turtles commonly feed on seagrass swaying next to the six giant hands that make up “Blessings” by Cuban artist Elier Amado Gil.

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Living Sea Sculptures

In 2003, American-born artist/metalsmith Colleen Flanigan attended a sustainable architecture conference that would change her career path. A talk about coral reef collapse due to climate change, pollution, overfishing, and irresponsible tourism and a promising solution called the Biorock process, which uses metal frames and low-voltage electricity to raise the pH level of seawater to stimulate coral growth, horrified and motivated her to combine her art with their methodology. First up, learning to scuba dive. Then, she went to work in Bali in 2004, eventually adding her Living Sea Sculptures “Liku Liku” and “Coral Skirt” to a Pemuteran bay previously devastated by dynamite and cyanide fishing. Karang Lestari is now the largest Biorock coral nursery in the world with close to 100 experimental forms ranging from artistic and ethereal to industrial and functional. More recently, she unveiled “Zoe,” inspired by DNA helices, in Cozumel, Mexico.

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PHOTO: ClimaxAP/ Shutterstock
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Herod’s Harbor

This former Roman Empire trading port was far ahead of its time. They were the first folks to build breakwaters. Now its many engineering marvels lie 20 feet below sea level in the Underwater Archeological Park in modern-day Caesarea, Israel. Established in 2006, the park has four diving facilities and 25 points of interest including ruins of the aforementioned breakwaters, pools, docks, warehouses, boardwalks, and beacons. Artifacts like marble columns and anchors are strewn all over the place. Only the first section can be toured by snorkelers. The remaining three require scuba skills and certification.

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PHOTO: Clifton Heritage
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Sir Nicolas Nuttal’s Coral Reef Sculpture Garden

Sir Nicolas Nuttal’s Underwater Sculpture Garden sits just off Nassau’s north side within the Clifton Heritage National Park, making it a fairly easy jaunt from the mega-hotels populating Paradise Island. Book a guide or swim out on your own following a path of reef balls to see another Taylor treasure, “Ocean Atlas.” Inspired by Greek mythology, a kneeling Bahamian girl holds the weight of water on her shoulders so it’s a good thing she’s the largest masterpiece deployed underwater. Modeled after a local student, she stands nearly 17 feet tall and weighs 60 tons. Other works like “Lucayan Mask” by Andret John and “Virtuoso Man” by Willicey Tynes keep her company.

INSIDER TIPPop culture fans should schedule enough time at Clifton to walk the beaches where “Flipper” and “Jaws: The Revenge” were filmed and to snorkel out to see ships wrecked during production of the silly shark sequel starring Michael Caine and the Bond installment “Thunderball.”

 

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Museo Atlantico

Taylor is also behind the calciferous creations found at Museo Atlantico, the only underwater museum in Europe in the Canary Islands. The Playa Blanca portfolio opened in 2016 approximately 40 feet below the surface in the Bahía de Las Coloradas off the south coast of Lanzarote. Taylor used locals as models for the 35 figure-strong “Rubicon” and gets political with the “Raft of Lampedusa” and “Los Jolateras,” which both reference the world’s current refugee crisis. Dive College Lanzarote is the official excursion operator and runs almost daily dives to see the creepy faceless couple taking a selfie and the various half-cactus, half-human hybrids that represent humanity living in harmony with nature.

 

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PHOTO: Florida Keys & Key West Tourist Development Council
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John Pennekamp Corel Reef State Park

WHERE: Key Largo, Florida

Now this is a Florida Man you want to meet. “Christ of the Abyss” (sometimes referred to as ”Christ of the Deep”) resides in the Dry Rocks area of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The 8.6-foot, 4,000-pound bronze work is the third casting of Italian sculptor Guido Galletti’s devout design. Commissioned by an Italian scuba equipment company and donated to the Underwater Society of America, it has graced the shallow warm waters of the Sunshine State since1965. An Italian doppelganger has lived off Genoa since 1954. While lurking around the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, you should also schedule a few stops along the Shipwreck Trail. Nearly a dozen ships sunk over three centuries and their final resting places are now vibrant homes to a stunning variety of sea life.

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PHOTO: Tristan Monterroso
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Museo Submarino de Sandy Bay

WHERE: Roatán, Honduras

This must-see attraction in Honduras, located just 30 minutes by car from Roatán’s cruise port, is more of a history museum than an art-focused one. After a short boat ride from the shores of Sandy Bay, divers are deposited on a platform on top of a nearby reef to gear up. The descent into the crystal-clear deep might as well be a time machine as the Museo Submarino is filled with authentic artifacts and reproductions representing the various periods and cultures important to the Central American country’s past. Float by pre-Columbian burial masks, Mayan statues, 17th-century sundials, Garifunas trinkets, and the skeleton of a 60-foot Spanish galleon complete with guns. It’s also common to see the wildest settlers of the area like damselfish, spotted drums, eagle rays, and hawksbill turtles. If you’re really lucky, a hammerhead might sneak up for a snack, err, to say hello.

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PHOTO: Visit Crimea
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Alley Of Leaders Underwater Park

WHERE: Cape Tarkhankut, Crimea

Less than a mile off the west coast of Crimea, one man’s passion for scuba diving and collecting memorials of former Soviet leaders after the fall of communism collided and resulted in the bonanza of busts in the Black Sea known as the Alley of Leaders. Founded in 1992 near Cape Tarkhankut, Vladimir Borumensky started with the head of Lenin. Stalin, Marx, and other communist icons have since joined the saltwater soiree. The display eventually grew more inclusive and now features various creative types like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and random landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Tower Bridge.

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Nexus

WHERE: Oslo, Norway

Jason deCaires Taylor’s latest project opened in August in Oslo. “Nexus,” which exists both in and out of the icy fjord near Sjøholmen, consists of 12 figures. A bronze father and daughter duo on a viewing platform stare down at life-size figures below the surface. In order for them to float, the marine art mastermind switched to a lightweight pH neutral micro-cement and polyurethane foam. They are symbolically connected to the fjord’s floor by stainless steel umbilical cords. All life began in the ocean after all. And coming full circle, crustaceans, mussels and tubular sea squirts have already started to move into the bases of the structures.