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Sunken Sculptures

Sunken Sculptures Come Alive

The first images I saw of the underwater sculpture parks in Grenada reminded me of the Flying Dutchman’s decrepit crew in Pirates of the Caribbean—humans mutating into sea creatures as they bartered with their lives to escape death for 100 years. But unlike Davy Jones’ cursed shipmates whose barnacle- and coral-encrusted figures emblemize decay, the similarly adorned human shapes in the underwater sculpture gardens symbolize growth as they create new habitats for marine life. The British Virgin Islands SCUBA Organization hopes to install three underwater sculpture gardens—subaqueous art exhibitions that will also benefit marine ecology.


According to Casey McNutt of the BVI SCUBA Organization, the sculptures “create a substrate for sponges and corals to build on” which also promotes “more nursery areas for fish.” The new reefs in the BVI will be established in “sandy, barren areas that can host a new habitat,” not in places “where there’s already an established eco-system,” stated Casey. In addition, she said the artificial reefs “relieve traffic on existing reefs that are over-dived or over-snorkeled.” By relieving that stress, “natural reefs have a greater chance to repair and regenerate,” according to sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor who created the statues in Grenada and currently curates Museo Subaquático de Arte (MUSA) in Cancun, Mexico. deCaires Taylor stated that he used human figures in order to “portray how human intervention or interaction with nature can be positive and sustainable, an icon of how we can live in a symbiotic relationship with nature.”

To take that sentiment even further, BVI sculptor Aragorn Dick-Read proposes subjects from the BVI’s cultural heritage for the underwater sculpture gardens in the territory. His proposal to BVI SCUBA Organization included sketches of a woman leading a donkey down a hill, boat builders constructing a Tortola Sloop, mocko jumbies dancing in celebration, and one of his famous spheres—in this case, a swim-through “People Ball" which would have to be at least as large as the 10-foot diameter fire ball he recently constructed in Changchun, China. But instead of his sculptures being viewed on land, these would all be secured underwater with fish, rays and squid swimming through them while corals, sponges and other marine life called them home. “Objects appear 25 percent larger underwater,” deCaires Taylor said, “and as a consequence they also appear closer. Colours alter as light is absorbed and reflected at different rates, with the depth of the water affecting this further. The light source in water is from the surface, this produces kaleidoscopic effects governed by water movement, currents and turbulence.” In addition to scenes of BVI heritage, Casey hopes to include a sculpture snorkeling site near the RMS Rhone that will serve as a memorial to the wreck that happened 144 years ago.

The Rhone also provides the theme for this project’s biggest fundraising event, The Rhone Ball, which will take place at Scrub Island Resort on October 29, 2011—the date of the 144th anniversary of the sinking of the ship. As Casey described the gala, I thought of men in tails and top hats, women in hoopskirts and gloves, marble staircases leading to expansive ballrooms with live bands, and several-course meals with gourmet food and wine. While The Rhone Ball guests are not expected to wear hoopskirts or tails, the gala will include a private concert by Jonathan Edwards and a four-course meal designed by Scrub Island Resort Executive Chef Andy Niedenthal as well as a private auction. “We hope to create a very special night in the territory that’s different than anything else,” Casey said. The idea of The Rhone Ball was resurrected from a popular event that BVI dive operators hosted decades ago, and Casey is looking forward to reinventing the evening in a way that promotes the reinvention of artificial reefs.


While shipwrecks make interesting dive sites, they also need to be scrubbed of dirt and oil and any other possible pollutants before being sunk. “It is so expensive to clean and prepare a wreck just to sink it. Sculptures don’t need to be cleaned,” Casey said. The materials used for the sculptures are pH-neutral and attract coral growth. Ships, though they do eventually host corals, are not intended to live below the sea whereas these statues are being created with that specific purpose in mind. Aragorn Dick-Read, in his proposal to BVI SCUBA Organization, declared that this project would place the BVI “at the forefront of a new artistic frontier” as well as enhancing the BVI as a dive and snorkeling destination.


Casey emphasized the fact that she has watched the coral degradation in the BVI over the past decade, and while it’s in her business interest to protect the reefs, she also feels it’s the right thing to do. “There’s a lot to be said, not only in our business and in our tourist industry here, but also being good stewards of the sea to pay attention to what we do,” Casey said. deCaires Taylor claimed, "Scientists are predicting that at current rates of destruction, we will lose 80 percent of our natural coral reefs by 2050." Casey mentioned the trash and oils from boats traffic and runoff from building construction as two main causes of damage to the marine ecosystems. “We need to put a little more thought into what we do and how it affects our environment,” she said. “That’s really what the whole project is about.”

For more information or for tickets to the Rhone Ball, contact [email protected]

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