Life-size sculptures submerged underwater—accessible primarily to divers and snorkelers—are part tourist attraction, part ecological experiment in Jason deCaires Taylor's innovative art installations. "Instead of seeing the world as a hidden, endless resource that we can treat how we want, I tried to change our relationship to it and turn it into a more intimate space," says deCaires Taylor, a British environmentalist and sculptor.
Crossing the Rubicon, Lanzarote, Spain
An avid scuba diver witnessing corals decline around the world, deCaires Taylor was inspired to explore how sculpture could be functional apart from aesthetics by designing man-made reefs.
Jason deCaires Taylor
These underwater gardens created by deCaires Taylor call attention to the huge threats to ocean life—from rising sea temperatures to pollution—with breathtaking art exhibits that also double as artificial havens for coral to regenerate and new ecosystems to thrive.
About 25 percent of the ocean's marine life depend on healthy reefs for shelter and food, yet 40 percent of the world's coral reefs have been damaged over the last several decades due to factors such as global warming, overfishing and irresponsible tourism, and scientists warn even more are at risk. Creating the world's first underwater sculpture park in Grenada in 2006, and with over 1,000 underwater artworks across the globe, deCaires Taylor has artfully highlighted the threats to our oceans while actively helping to create new life in them.
The Silent Evolution - Isla Mujeres, Mexico
"A lot of my works are ordinary scenes you'd see in a terrestrial world, but when you drop them into a different world, you're able to think a little bit deeper and reflect in a different way," says deCaires Taylor. "The Silent Evolution" is an undersea art exhibit off the Cancun coast. More than 400 life-size submerged statues were cast from locals from a nearby fishing village who are now immortalized guarding their oceans. Ten years old, the man-made reef is already home to more than 2,000 juvenile corals.
Ocean Atlas - Nassau, Bahamas
Off the coast of Nassau sits the world's largest underwater sculpture, shallow enough for both snorkelers and divers to view. This 60-ton, 16-foot tall statue of a young Bahamian girl appears to hold up the ocean, just like her Greek namesake Atlas, who mythology says suspended the heavens.
Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park - Grenada, West Indies
Installed in 2006 after Molinere Bay suffered devastating damage from the 2004 Hurricane Ivan, these 75 submerged art pieces formed the world's first underwater sculpture park and was named one of National Geographic's 25 Wonders of the World. It now provides a new base for marine life to proliferate, and it also draws divers, snorkelers and glass-bottomed boats away from more fragile reefs nearby.
Playa Blanca - Canary Islands
This first underwater art museum in Europe, opened in 2016, is accessible to both divers and snorkelers. The submerged museum holds over 300 life-size casts including The Rubicon—35 figures walking toward an underwater wall, seemingly sleepwalking through the demise of the natural world and climate change.
The Rising Tide - London, U.K.
Unlike most of deCaires Taylor's works, these sculptures can be seen from land, on the banks of the River Thames, emerging during low tide. Within sight of the Houses of Parliament, they are a nod to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and are a reminder of rising sea levels and the denial of climate change.
Nexus - Oslo, Norway
Commissioned by a children's art center, these floating sculptures both in and on the Oslo fjords—visible underwater and by glass-bottomed canoe—are monitored by the children as the figures are colonized by marine life. For divers delving deeper into the inlet, freshwater gives way to green salt water, creating mesmerizing aquatic filters against the sculptures.
Coralarium - Sirru Fen Fushi, Maldives
This 2018 tidal art installation—a metallic cube structure—sits partially submerged in a clear, shallow lagoon. Snorkelers and divers can see sculptures inside it underwater or climb to the roof where more human-like figures rest. As the tide recedes, more of the cube is visible, and over time it will become a foundation for a new ecosystem.
Nest - Gili Meno, Indonesia
On a small island near Bali, known for clear waters and turtles, lie these 48 life-size cement figures. The embracing couples encircling additional curled-up figures on the seafloor are a home for teeming marine life and regenerating coral. Resting on the seafloor and only 13 feet deep, divers, snorkelers and glass-bottomed boats visit daily.
Museum of Underwater Art - Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Ocean Siren Underwater Art
Expected to open to the public in early 2020, deCaires Taylor's latest project aims to rehabilitate parts of the world's largest reef system. Works in the underwater museum include a partially-submerged figure that changes color as the sea warms and which can be seen from shore, and even a submerged coral-covered greenhouse.
Artist's Rendering of the Coral Greenhouse with Surrounding Sea-Scaping Jason deCaires Taylor
The Christ of the Abyss - Key Largo, Florida
ON AUGUST 25, 1965, A nine-foot-tall bronze statue of Christ was lowered into 25 feet of water off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. Known as the Christ of the Abyss, this submerged statue in John Pennekamp State Park was actually the third of its kind cast from the original Italian mold.
The original Il Cristo degli Abissi, or Christ of the Abyss, was lowered into the Mediterranean Sea on August 22, 1954, just off San Fruttuoso on the Italian Riviera. The bronze statue was the work of Guido Galletti, inspired by a concept by Italian diver Duilio Marcante. It was to represent Christ in the new world below the waves, a memorial for all those who had lost their lives at sea and a monument to those who continued to dive beneath it.
Seven years later, a second bronze sculpture was cast from the same mold. Like the original, it was submerged, this time off the coast of St. George’s, Grenada, in the southeastern Caribbean Sea. It was placed on October 22, 1961, a gift from Italy in recognition of the Italian crew saved from the sinking of the M.V. Bianca C, a passenger ship that had sunk off St. George’s earlier that year.
A third incarnation, again cast from the original mold, was submerged on August 25, 1965. This time the underwater location was near Dry Rocks in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo (which, incidentally, was the first underwater park in the United States). The statue was donated to The Underwater Society of America by the Italian dive equipment manufacturer Egidio Cressi.
The John Pennekamp Park was chosen as the statue’s final resting place after plenty of debate. It arrived in 1965, but had to wait until a huge concrete base was first constructed. Eventually, on August 25, the larger-than-life bronze statue was lowered to the base, the whole ensemble standing in 25 feet of water. It soon became one of the most famous underwater attractions in Key Largo, and naturally attracted plenty of divers.
The top of the statue sits at around 8 to 10 feet below the surface, making it visible to snorkelers. But SCUBA divers get the best views (and the best selfies) of Florida’s Christ of the Abyss, diving down alongside the statue as it stands, arms aloft, among the coral reefs, an occasional barracuda or ray drifting past.
After being underwater almost a century, the ocean has taken over and the Massachusetts is a full-fledged artificial reef, teeming with life. A popular place for fishers to net bait fish and for divers to explore, it’s also designated as an underwater archeological preserve. Divers can see massive schools of fish intermingling around the wreck. Stingrays, massive Goliath groupers, and several species of shark are among its larger visitors. Schools of dolphins are also known to frequent the area, and their communications can sometimes be heard while underwater.