Eerie underwater sculpture finished in Caribbean

If you go diving off Isla Mujeres near Cancun, Mexico, you’ll see more than the usual coral reefs and colorful tropical fish. You’ll see a ghostly crowd of people standing on the bottom of the sea.

Silent Evolution is the creation of Jason de Caires Taylor, who specializes in underwater sculptures cast from real people. Taylor uses inert, PH-neutral concrete that doesn’t pollute the water. The figures attract sea life and become platforms for coral and other marine creatures. With coral reefs on the decline around the world, a little extra help from artists can come in handy. Check out the gallery below to see how life begins to grow on the figures, transforming them from realistic replicas of living people into something alien and a bit spooky.

Taylor took eight months to install the sculptures in a big crowd of talking, walking, and thinking people. The exhibition encourages repeat visits to see how “sea change” transforms the art into a living ecozone.


Underwater sculpture garden helps save Cancun’s coral reefs

Cancun’s famous coral reefs have been hit hard lately by storms and pollution, and the Mexican government has come up with an interesting way to let the reefs heal while still attracting visitors. They’re creating an underwater sculpture garden that will bring back the tourists and encourage growth of new coral.

It’s the brainchild of the Mexican government and artist Jason de Caires Taylor, who specializes in the beautiful if rather rare art of underwater sculpture. Most of his figures are human forms cast from real people. They’re made of inert, PH-neutral concrete. This concrete doesn’t pollute the water and attracts sea life. The figures then become platforms for coral and various other marine life, making a strange mixture of the natural and man-made.

Mexican park officials hope the sculptures will draw snorkelers and scuba divers away from the coral reefs, allowing the reefs time to heal. Judging from the photos in this gallery, divers won’t want to miss it. The scenes Mr. de Caires Taylor creates are spooky yet strangely alluring, like the plaster casts of Pompeii victims.

It takes only a couple of weeks for green algae to form on the surface of the sculptures, and coral and other sea creatures will start growing within a couple of months. So not only will the original coral reefs be allowed to regrow, but a new one will also start growing to add to the biodiversity on the sea floor.

Like his previous works in Granada, Chepstow and Canterbury (UK), the sculpture garden in Cancun is located in clear, shallow waters to allow easy viewing, although scuba divers will have the best view because they’ll be able to swim around the art at leisure. The first figures have already been put into place off the shores of Cancun. Hundreds more are planned.


Bowermaster’s Adventures — Snorkeling through the Maldives

Swimming along the coral edge of what transplanted marine biologist Anke Hofmeister calls her “home reef” the line dividing the shallows and deep blue is exact. To our left in the brightly sunlit coral, hundreds of shiny reef fish dart and feed; in the dark blue, just to our right, which descends straight down a dramatic hundred foot wall, swim the Maldivian big guys – jackfish, tuna and red snapper, each over one hundred pounds. An occasional spotted eagle ray elegantly flaps its way past in the dark blue below the surface of a calm Indian Ocean.

During a mile-long swim paralleling the beach we spy an incredibly beautiful and vast variety of wrasses, clown, surgeon and parrot fish. A dusky moray eel peeks out of its coral hideaway. A solitary hawksbill turtle flippers past. And a square-headed porcupine fish attempts to hide itself deep inside a rock crevice. As Anke dives to tickle an anemone hugged tight to the coral, a nasty titan triggerfish nips at her; they can be aggressive little buggers and when they bite literally take a chunk of flesh. The shallow, sandy floor running to the beach is heavy with gray-beige coral, colorful clams and even a few handsome sea cucumbers (black with red dots).

The relative health of the coral is somewhat remarkable because recent history here hasn’t been particularly kind to it. In 1998, thanks to shifting ocean patterns associated with El Niño, sea temperatures rose above 32 degrees C for more than two weeks badly “bleaching” the coral (the killing of the symbiotic algae that lives within the coral and gives it color). Between seventy and ninety percent of all the reefs surrounding the Maldives 26 atolls are estimated to have died as a result. Slowly they are trying to come back.

While that temperature rise was considered a fluke, today after our swim I ask Anke to guess at the water temps now. “Around 31 degrees C (88 degrees F),” she says, though she not guessing since she’s worked and swum here nearly daily for the past four years. “For this time of year, that seems to be normal now. In two more months it will be colder, down to 27, 28 degrees.”

In 1998 scientists were astonished that the water temperatures could rise so high, so fast. Now they are worried it may one day become the norm. With approximately 80 per cent of the 1,192 coral islets that make up the island nation just three feet or less above sea level, making it the world’s lowest country, the temperature of the ocean is very important. If the temperatures stay high and the coral continues to suffer and die, there goes another barrier protecting these already fragile, at-risk islands.

While warming and rising seas and coral die-offs are everyday concerns throughout the Maldives, as Anke and I walk back down the beach another environmental worry is evident: Many of the beautiful white sand beaches are narrowing, on some islands quite dramatically. It’s estimated that fifty percent of the inhabited islands and forty five percent of those with resorts only are suffering from some degree of coastal erosion.

Some of the beach loss is due to man. Continued development demands more sand for cement (though much of the sand used for building in the Maldives today comes from Sri Lanka or India). Increased wave action due to more boat traffic takes a toll. But a major blame is placed on the tsunami of 2004, which sucked massive amounts of sand off the beaches, and it never returned.

When you fly above the Maldives it’s easy to see there is no one shape characterizing the outline of the exterior of the atolls or the hundreds of islands sheltered inside them. Strong tides and powerful currents shape each, there is no one pattern thus no single way to reduce or limit the erosion. On different islands different attempts have been made to save the beaches, including building of seawalls or jetties, dredging and pumping. In some cases it is working, in others not.

On one hand it’s easy to think of these coral atolls and the islands they protect as tough and impervious, imagining that they’ve been here a long time and will be here for a longer time to come. But a short swim and a simple walk on a beautiful, hot, hot day quickly reminds just how fragile, how vulnerable they can be.

Snorkeling Maui’s Molokini Crater

I love to snorkel. Living in New York, it’s not something I get to do very often (East River anyone?) so I jump at the chance to try it any time I’m traveling somewhere more tropical. Hawaii is an especially good spot for snorkeling fans, offering an embarassment of good spots where you can literally walk into the water off the beach and see all kinds of neon-hued fish, giant sea turtles and all sorts of weird-looking coral formations.

Recently I had a chance to check one of Maui’s most famous snorkel spots, Molokini Crater. This tiny crescent-shaped island, just off Maui’s southern coast, is actually the remains of a long extinct volcano. Today, it’s a recognized wildlife sanctuary, home to hundreds of species of marine life, including huge fish, sea urchins, coral, shrimp and all manner of nesting sea birds. Due to the island’s unique crescent shape, it’s largely sheltered from the dangerous ocean currents, making it the ideal place to check out some cool underwater life in a unique setting. Upon entering the water, I was surprised by my surroundings. The water depth is much deeper than I’ve typically found when snorkeling, reaching down almost 40-50 feet. The visibility at Molokini was also fantastic, allowing for great underwater views in all directions. Not to mention I was surrounded by hundreds of triggerfish like the one you see in my picture above. Divers and snorkelers come out to the area fairly regularly, so they’re not afraid to swim right up to you for a closer look. As I swam around, I encountered all manner of sea urchins, angelfish and even an octopus. Definitely on par with some of the best snorkeling I’ve done. I won’t try to claim I was by myself – a large number of boats and snorkelers visit the island each day. However, it was easy enough to swim away from the crowds and find myself all alone with nothing but the sound of me breathing through my snorkel tube.

Since Molokini lies well off Maui’s coast, you’ll need to take a charter cruise to reach it. Depending on what you want, trips can run anywhere from $70-$100, typically including an hour or two of snorkeling, lunch/breakfast and the opportunity to laze around on a sailboat, cocktail in hand. We ended up using Paragon, who charter a small catamaran and had a very friendly staff, though I will say they were a bit casual about confirming our reservation.

And what about all you land lovers? Fear not, you can still check out some cool Hawaiian marine life. Take a visit the Maui Ocean Center, which I hear is fantastic.