The Great Barrier Reef’s underwater museumTownsville, Queensland
Just off the coast of Townsville, in Queensland’s north, is a surprising visitor attraction, the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA). It comprises, at the moment, two separate works of art.
The first, a glowing statue off the Strand, a popular waterfront promenade, is Ocean Siren. Modelled on 12-year-old Takoda Johnson, a member of the local Wulgurukaba people, the sculpture changes colour according to the ocean’s temperature using data collected by the Davies Reef weather station. It’s a reminder – and warning – about rising sea temperatures.
About two hours off shore by boat, at John Brewer Reef, is Coral Greenhouse. Anchored at a depth of 18 metres below the ocean’s surface, it consists of a ribbed structure and 20 statues of student scientists.
They make up the first two locations of MOUA; two more – near Palm Island and Magnetic Island – are due to be finished by the end of 2021. All were designed and constructed by underwater sculptor, Jason deCaires Taylor (in consultation with local community groups and traditional owners), who has previously launched projects all over the world, including the Bahamas and Spain. We spoke to him about MOUA.
How did you become an underwater sculptor? After I finished my degree in arts I went to Australia and learned to become a dive instructor on the Great Barrier Reef and taught diving there for some time. Then I moved to other countries around the world, but still really wanted to get back into the arts.
What attracted you to the Museum of Underwater Art? I’ve done lots of other projects around the world, but I’ve never done a substantial project in the Pacific Ocean, and it’s been a great ambition of mine. The diversity of life in the Pacific is much greater than in many of the other places I’ve worked. Queensland is also quite a special place for me because I lived there.
Tell us about Ocean Siren, the statue displayed above the water, just off the Strand in Townsville. I wanted to connect art and science in one piece. Ocean Siren changes colour according to water temperature data and it reflects how the ocean temperature can change. I was keen to show an urban community what’s happening out on the reef, so it connects the community to the reef as well.
You’ve also created Coral Greenhouse at John Brewer Reef, off Townsville. What’s special about that? This is a very different project to some of my previous ones. In the past it’s been about drawing tourists away from reefs. In the Caribbean, for instance, there are very few pristine reefs left. This was a very different proposition. This project was more about drawing people out to the reef to showcase how it is still in fantastic condition and has some of the most amazing corals in the world.
There are statues of 20 schoolchildren in the Greenhouse, too. When we talk about reefs we’re very much talking about what we’re leaving for younger generations. But I also wanted to encourage more youth into exploring the underwater world. Plus, I wanted the local communities – school students, especially – to become ambassadors for the reef.