Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Jason deCaires Taylor

Because coral reefs sit below the water line, when they start to disintegrate (from pollution, over fishing, climate change, ocean acidification... the list is long) most of us wouldn't notice. Or — and here's an irony — the more we notice, the more they disintegrate.
Some coral reefs are so overvisited, they are harmed by our attention.
What to do? Well, this is where the sculptors and weavers come in.
That's right, sculptors and weavers. Unappointed, spontaneously in their different ways, artists from all over the world are trying to remind us that reefs are in trouble and keep us from making things worse.
They can't solve the fundamental problem (oceans are extraordinarily complex ecosystems), but their ideas are creepily, astonishingly beautiful and clever.
For example, take a look at this man, sculpted from real life by Jason deCaires Taylor.
He is made of cement. Not ordinary cement, but a pH-neutral variety, designed to host sponges, tunicates and underwater life. Our oceans teem with microscopic organisms that constantly rain down from the surface. If they can land on a durable, solid, hospitable surface, they will attach, colonize and become sea coral.The problem is most of the sea bottom is soft and sandy. Only about 10 to 15 percent has a substratum solid enough for reefs to form naturally. Jason figured, why not help out a little? A few years ago, off the Caribbean island nation of Granada (remember Granada? We invaded it a few decades ago), he helped create a small underwater sculpture park by dropping and anchoring groups of statues into circles and odd formations on the shallow sea bottom where they could be easily visited by snorkelers and scuba divers.
Yes, they can look a little creepy, these human figures gradually getting encrusted. Some of them have holes in them for lobsters. But hey, if you were hanging out at the nearby natural coral, wouldn't you want to swim over and see this?
For one thing, water is a magnifier. Objects appear 25 percent larger; light refracts at different rates at different depths, so the sculptures will change appearance depending upon how you approach them. And unlike a museum, you will be floating, not walking through. As Jason told Diver Magazine, "Bouyancy and weightlessness enable a detached physical experience that's perceptual and personal." Kind of like an underwater acid trip, I'm thinking.
But the sly part of all this is what the sculptures do for the coral. By pulling visitors away from the natural coral to the new, adjacent "parks," there is less human pressure at the original, fragile sites. And later as the statues get covered over, they may become hosts to the next generation of coral reefs. Sounds like it might work, unless the parks double the crowds, but the game is on.
Last year, off Isla Mujeres in Mexico, Jason deCaires Taylor helped create a much bigger underwater sculpture park. When you swim to this one, there's a vast crowd waiting for you...
He's got more than 400 sculptures anchored into the sea bottom there.

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