Conservation Art Under the Sea

Here’s a great opportunity for teachers to teach across the curriculum.

Jason deCaires Taylor is an award winning sculptor, environmentalist and professional underwater photographer. For almost 20 years, he has been championing the cause of coral reef protection. Each year, more than 750 000 people go diving off the coast of Cancun in Mexico’s National Marine Park to view Taylor’s 500 submerged statues, collectively known as Museo Subacuático de Arte.

Taylor planned the project in detail from the start, placing the statues close to the Mesoamerican Reef. Writing for the World Economic Forum, Veronica Scotti described the reef’s importance thus:

Among the most captivating examples of important ecosystems under threat are coral reefs. They protect coastal areas from storms and wave erosion, become tourist destinations, and generate economic activity. They’re also incredibly diverse marine habitats, and around 25% of all the ocean’s fish depend on them.

Scotti added that: ‘By 2040, a destructive cocktail of climate-related problems could mean a global decline of between 70% and 90% of coral reefs. That combination includes rising average sea temperatures, storm damage and the results of human activity, such as trawler fishing.’

Taylor is trying to make people aware of these facts via his sculpture exhibition. His statues are made of a cement that is similar to coral. It is pH neutral and is full of crevasses for fish and other ocean creatures to swim through and hide in.

In order to track whether the statues are becoming part of the reef as Taylor hoped, he has been joined by marine biologist, doctoral student, and bioacoustics specialist Heather Spence. Together, they have created ‘The Listener’, a life-sized sculpture of a human figure covered in what seem to be human ears.

Inside the sculpture is an ecological acoustic recorder, which records clips every 15 minutes. Spence has told the media, ‘As things start to grow on the sculpture, and this artificial reef develops, we can track it acoustically.’

The ears are symbolic. They ask for people to hear the truth about climate change. Taylor invited a group of Cancun schoolchildren to his studio. He taught them how to make casts, and then he made casts of their ears. These compelling components cover the sculpture. In addition to asking people to listen to news about vulnerable ecosystems, Taylor is asking them to listen to what they can hear on the ocean floor.