by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation
The Mesoamerican Reef, off the coast of Cancun, Mexico, is the Atlantic Ocean’s largest coral reef, and the second-largest coral reef in the world. Over 700 miles long, the reef is a hotbed of biodiversity, with over 65 species of stony coral that help to sustain more than 500 species of fish, 350 species of mollusks, marine mammals, sea birds, amphibians, and almost every other type of organism you can image.
But the reef is in trouble. Years of damage from natural disasters, fluctuating global temperature, human activity, and people who have used (and mis-used) the reef for its economic values, have left the Mesoamerican Reef damaged. And because coral reefs, made up of millions of individual polyps that are each only millimeters long, can take hundreds of thousands of years to grow, reversing that damage is a long and complicated process.
Over 300,000 visitors come to Mexico’s West Coast National Park each year, many to snorkel and scuba dive among the reef. Park managers looking for a way to continue encouraging tourism while still protecting the delicate coral reefs (just touching coral can damage it, so divers can inadvertently hurt the ecosystem they’re enjoying) came up with the idea to create a memorable attraction that would keep divers away from sensitive or recovering reef areas. The park commissioned artist Jason de Caires Taylor to create the Subaquatic Sculpture Museum. Unlike most museums you might visit while on vacation, you’ll need to bring you scuba equipment to see this one.
The Subaquatic Sculpture Museum is now the world’s largest underwater museum, composed of 400 concrete statues cast from real people propagated with live “starter” coral. Over time, the sculptures will become the base for new reef growth, and the installations will support the same ecosystems they were commissioned to protect.
The underwater museum will open in November, 2010.
This post is part of Blog Action Day 2010. Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day, with the goal of raising awareness and triggering a global discussion. The theme of this year’s Blog Action Day is Water; past years have focused on climate change, poverty and on the environment.
Read last year’s Blog Action Day post on algae and sustainable energy here.