Cancun's underwater sculpture project
Mar 2, 2010, 11:44 GMT
Cancun, Mexico - The boat belonging to the National Marine Park leaves harbour and heads out to sea at full speed. Its destination is Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women, and on board is the national park's director Jaime Gonzalez Cano. Gonzalez is travelling to an underwater sculpture museum where concrete statues have been sunk beneath the waves.
They are the first statues of what one day will be an enormous underwater museum off Mexico's Caribbean coastline. When completed the museum will have up to 400 concrete statues made by the British artist Jason de Caires Taylor.
Juan Carlos Huitron is managing the project on behalf of the national park. Today, he's diving with Gonzalez to the first figure to be sent down. After diving through 10 metres of turquoise blue water their flippers touch the white sandy seabed.
The first figures to be installed were entitled the Man on Fire, the Gardener of Hope and the Archive of Lost Dreams. The Archive of Lost Dreams consists of a man leaning against a waist-high book shelf, leafing through a book. On the shelf are bottles containing messages of hope, fear and loss.
The Man on Fire is a single figure through which 75 holes have been drilled. Small pieces of red coral have been planted in the holes that will eventually grow to look like flames emitting from the man's belly. The Gardener of Hope is a young woman lying on a platform surrounded by a watering can and pieces of coral planted in pots.
Each of the sculptures is made of special gray-coloured cement with a neutral acid content. Over time they will become homes to algae and other marine organisms and eventually develop into a coral reef.
'Soon we will see the first green on the figures,' says Taylor. The sculptures are aimed at attracting divers and easing the strain on the natural reef that stretches hundreds of kilometres from here to Honduras.
In addition to the hurricanes of 2005, scuba divers and snorkellers have caused damage to the coral reefs around Cancun.
'After the first storm in June 2005 most of the coral reef managed to recover,' says Gonzalez. 'About 90 per cent of the reef began growing again.' But by mid-October 2005 Hurricane Wilma destroyed everything that had recovered.
'About 750,000 people visit the surrounding marine national parks every year,' says Gonzalez. The parks are situated in a sea region that stretches from Cancun, past Isla Mujeres and Isla Contoy with its bird sanctuary, over the northern point of the Yucatan peninsula as far as Isla Holbox.
However, that figure does not include all visitors. 'We estimate about 450,000 people come to dive and snorkel in the four hectare area at Punta Nizuc,' explains Gonzalez. Punta Nizuc is located south of Cancun's hotel zone.
The reef at Nizuc protrudes from the sea and is visited by hundreds of people every day. 'The underwater sculptures are intended to reduce the pressure of visitors on the reef and attract divers,' says Gonzalez.