Cancún Underwater Museum
The Cancún Underwater Museum (Spanish: Museo Subacuático de Arte, known as MUSA) is a non-profit organization based in Cancún, Mexico devoted to the art of conservation. The museum has a total of 500 sculptures, most by Jason deCaires Taylor and the others by five Mexican sculptors, with three different galleries submerged between three and six meters deep in the ocean at the Cancún National Marine Park. The museum was thought up by Marine Park Director Jaime Gonzalez Canto, with the help of sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor; it was started in 2009 and completed at the end of 2013.
Dr. Jaime González Miki, the Director of the National Park Costa Occidental Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancún y Punta Nizuc, saw that the natural coral reefs were being damaged by tourists, anchors, and divers. He began to see that the largest coral reef in Cancún, Manchones reef was becoming the most damaged because it is the most often visited by divers and snorkelers.
Early in 2005 Dr. González Canto suggested to the then President of the Cancún Nautical Association, Roberto Díaz Abraham, the idea of taking snorkelers and divers to an area where concrete reefs with some corals had been placed, to draw them away from Manchones reef. By January 2008, Díaz Abraham walked away from the project, believing that it would take many more years for the artificial coral gardens to flourish and become an attraction, but González Canto persisted.
Pursuing research on artificial reefs, he came across British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, who had been pioneering the use of underwater sculptures for the creation of artificial reefs on a project in Grenada that demonstrated the value of art in conservation, the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park. He was a diving instructor in the Caribbean at the time, which also allowed him to see art in a different way.
Roberto Diaz Abraham agreed to the plan for Taylor to create an underwater sculpture museum. MUSA was created and Taylor was contracted to do the initial work installing almost 500 sculptures, with the others by Mexican sculptors. Most of Taylor's sculptures had been installed by the end of 2010. By the end of 2013, five years after the foundation of MUSA, a total of 500 concrete sculptures comprising the MUSA collection had been placed at the bottom of the ocean, 487 created by Jason deCaires Taylor and the rest by five Mexican artists. 477 are exhibited in the Manchones gallery and 23 in the Nizuc gallery. In addition, 26 replicas and one original are located at a visitor center at Plaza Kukulcán, a mall in the hotel zone of Cancún. More than 100,000 visitors, out of 500,000 that visited the Government Protected Area, visited MUSA during 2013.
The Silent Evolution
Jason deCaires Taylor’s installment of sculptures is a collection he calls The Silent Evolution. The statues of this collection are to show humans interacting with the environment around them, with both a positive and negative impact. He shows how humans can live with nature and make a workable future between the two, but also how humans have damaged nature, specifically the coral reefs, and show no sympathy.
The statues in the The Silent Evolution show how some humans see their surrounding and embrace them while others hide their faces. Each statue was made to resemble members of a local fishing community where Taylor lives. Each statue has its own personality and features. Taylor made sure every detail from the hair to the clothes of the statues was perfect. They include a little girl with a faint smile on her face looking up to the surface; six businessmen with their heads in the sand, not paying attention to their surroundings; and even a man behind a desk with his dog lying him, but looking tired and uninvolved in the environment.
The work took Taylor 18 months and 120 hours of working underwater and used 120 tons of concrete, sand, and gravel, 3,800m of fiberglass, and 400kg of silicone.  The sculptures are created with pH-neutral marine concrete, made with the help of marine park officials and the Cancún Nautical Association. The sculptures are created above ground and cleaned before being taken underwater so they do not have any chemicals on them that may harm the water, animals, or reef.
Some corals (such as fire coral) have been planted on and near the initial sculptures. The Silent Evolution is a two-part art installation: the underwater sculptures themselves are the first part, while the second is how nature will transform them as coral grows and a new reef forms.
Three galleries have been created, two underwater and one on land. MUSA obtained a permit to sink 1,200 structures in 10 different areas within the National Marine Park. So far only two have been developed, Manchones reef with 477 sculptures and Punta Nizuc with 23 structures. A new installation by Cuban sculptor Elier Amado Gil, Blessings, is to be placed in a new gallery called Chitales. Snorkelers, scuba divers, and tourists can visit the underwater exhibits via a glass-bottom boat.
To place the statues on the ocean floor, Taylor had a special lift made for the statues so none would be damaged during the move. A forty-ton crane was placed on a commercial ferry in order to lower the sculptures. Some are so heavy that they had to be lifted into the water using lift bags, which are bags of air to help control the position of the statue in the right spot.
The third exhibit room is on shore in a mall, Plaza Kukulcán, with 26 replicas and one original ceramic sculpture by Roberto Díaz Abraham, The Ocean Muse.
The underwater museum is to benefit the protection of the coral reefs. Artificial reefs are usually created by sunken ships and other objects that have fallen to the bottom of the ocean floor. The statues are a new technique and material for coral to grow on, a means for art to save the oceans. As the statues were made with pH-neutral cement, coral, seaweed, and algae are able to grow and develop better than on an old ship. Stable structures with a stable base are known to be ideal surfaces for artificial reefs. The statues also have holes in them, which allow marine wildlife to colonize and feed off the coral. Coral reefs will increase, but so will marine life. After only a short time under the water, the statues began to be transformed by nature. In time, all the statues will be covered and their figures will barely be visible
The museum also benefits the community. The new museum is attracting more tourists and new tours are being created for them. A Cancún tour guide and diver, Juan Carlos Garrido, worries the museum will not last. The museum is good for his touring and diving business, but he is concerned that the statues and coral reefs may become ruined or even more damaged by a storm or the numbers of tourist that will come. These statues are meant to keep coral developing and if some get damaged the statues are able to continue that growth.
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- Carlo McCormick and Helen Scales; foreword by Jason deCaires Taylor (2014). The Underwater Museum: The Submerged Sculptures of Jason deCaires Taylor. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 9781452118871.
- Underwater Sculpture by Jason deCaires Taylor website
- Cancún underwater museum on Bloosee
- MUSA Cancún Underwater Museum