Sea change

Extraordinary submarine art that heals the planet as it entrances viewers. These visuals will make you want to sign up for diving lessons.

The Silent Evolution, an underwater sculpture project in the Mexican Caribbean, is not only aesthetically compelling -- it has true environmental functionality too.

Photo by the artist, Jason deCaires Taylor. View more amazing images on the artist's web site here.

The installations, comprising hundreds of human figures, are in the National Marine Park of Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Punta Nizuc. The figures, cast from ordinary Cancun locals, take on a beautiful, haunting quality in their new home on the ocean floor. But that's just the beginning: from then on they keep evolving progressively into “something rich and strange”, serving as a substrate for the sea life that colonises and transforms them.

In the coastal waters off Cancun, and throughout the underwater world, coral reefs are under attack from such onslaughts as coral mining, water pollution, ocean acidification and coral bleaching*. Coral reefs, which are formed from the calcified external skeletons produced by millions of small sessile animals, are also home to a wealth of varied sealife, from turtles to anemones, so if the coral dies there are massive die-offs of other marine plants and animals too.

The Silent Evolution forms an artificial replacement habitat to help partly fill the gaps left by the oceans' dying coral. The sculptures are made to deliberately include holes and crevices of different shapes and sizes to attract colonisation by various lifeforms, in addition to those which prefer the outer surfaces. Hard surfaces and hidey-holes like these are at a premium on the exposed sandy expanses of the sea-bed.

Artificial reefs also serve to relieve pressure on natural coral reefs, which, with their rich diversity of organisms, are magnets for exotic fish collectors and unsustainable ecotourism. Environmentalists hope that The Silent Evolution, with its dual appeal as intrigueing artwork and growing reef, will draw tourists from other popular undersea areas, thus allowing these to rest and recover. 

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, updated July 2011

De Caires Taylor, J. Official web site. View more galleries by the artist here.

As levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) rise as we continue to burn fossil fuels, more CO2 dissolves back into the oceans, making it more acidic. This weakens coral structure. Sea temperature rise and other stressors also lead to coral bleaching: loss of its distinctive colours as a result of the expulsion or death of the tiny pigmented organisms that live symbiotically with the coral.

Read more:
More on healthy travel ideas
More on biodiversity and climate change

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