Coral reefs are an integral part of oceanic wildlife. They make up less than 0.2 percent of the world’s oceans, but they are home to one-fourth of all marine life. They filter the water, feed the fish, buffer coastal areas from storms, and provide homes for oceanic life. And as the Los Angeles Times recently reported, a coral reef-like structure can also take the form of an impressive underwater art exhibit.

Artist Jason deCaires Taylor recently completed “The Silent Evolution,” an underwater museum and permanent sculpture exhibit set up in the waters near Cancun, Mexico. It is located in the National Marine Park of Isla Mujeres, Cancun and Punta Nizuc. Experts hope that the exhibit, easily accessible by snorkeling, will alleviate some of the tourist traffic on the nearby natural coral reefs. Cancun Marine Park is in close proximity and receives up to 750,000 tourists annually.

Called “awe-inspiring” and “surreal” by the L.A. Times, the exhibit is 400 sculptures of people standing silently on the ocean floor, eyes closed, heads tilted towards the surface. As deCaires Taylor told the L.A. Times, the exhibit has “taken 18 months, required 120 tons of cement, sand and gravel, 3,800m of fiberglass, 400kg of silicone, 8,000 miles of red tape, 120 hours working underwater and $250,000."

Coral reefs are under assault all over the globe. Sewage and agricultural run-off from coastal areas poison many reefs via toxic algae blooms that can cut off their much-need oxygen supply. Human visitors also cause extensive damage by literally knocking into the ecosystems, breaking off pieces of souvenir coral, and dragging boats and anchors across its fragile surfaces.

Further, as ocean temperatures increase, reefs are succumbing to “coral bleaching.” This is the process in which coral expels some of its inhabitants due to heated waters, leaving them white and lifeless. Fossil records date some of the oldest corals on Earth to be 500 million years old, and yet they are under grave assault from warming temperatures and mankind’s encroachment.

Made from environmentally friendly materials, deCaires Taylor’s sculpture promotes awareness of the plight of coral. The artist says his sculpture garden in Mexico is only in the first stages of development. As he told the Los Angeles Times, "I would also like to point out that this installation is by no means over and the second phase is dependent on nature's artists of the sea, to nurture, evolve and apply the patina of life."

underwater artificial reef Cancun

Artist's artificial reef examples