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The Maldives Underwater Sculpture Museum: Beauty and Purpose

By Nicole Trilivas

As the world’s lowest country, the Maldives is famous for its colourful coral islands and the wide array of marine wildlife they attract. Unfortunately, due to global warming, the country’s greatest natural assets is at risk. To combat the threat, the brand new luxury resort, the Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi has taken an innovative—and artistic—approach to conservation with the construction of their new Maldives Underwater Sculpture Museum.

Created by famed British environmental artist Jason deCaires Taylor, the Coralarium is an underwater gallery of sculptures, which guests can snorkel through with Samuel Dixon, the Fairmont Maldives’ in-house marine biologist. The sculptures, some totally submerged, other partially revealed depending on the level of the tide, are set in a stainless steel frame designed to evoke the pattern of a gorgonian sea fan. The sculptures themselves are made with a pH-neutral, nontoxic marine grade compound, which contains no harmful pollutants to the marine environment.

The immersive installation serves a protective environment to encourage much-needed coral growth in the area. “In 2016 there was an El Niño event where the ocean temperature increased by a couple degrees Celsius and lots of coral died,” explains Dixon, who guides Fairmont guests through the Coralarium. “In this island, 90% of the coral was wiped out. So, what we’ve done with the Coralarium is we’ve targeted and transplanted that 10% that have shown themselves to be genetically resilient to ocean warming and climate change.” Eventually, this resilient coral will cover all of the sculptures, which will make the Coralarium that much more impressive, both from a visual and environmental standpoint.

Maldives Underwater Sculpture Museum

Dixon, who worked very closely with the artist, actually modelled for two of the gallery’s half-submerged sculptures, which take the form of half-human half-plant hybrid figures. “The artist likes to incorporate a lot of the local environment into his designs wherever he works in the world,” says Dixon. “So here, the human forms are combined with we have here on the island like banyan tree roots, coconut shells and coral formations.”

This serves a practical function too: “The artist has been doing this for a great number of years, and he has worked with marine biologists before, so he does lots of his shapes and configurations to suit different species.” This is apparent throughout the statues of the Coralarium: Egg-shaped slits at the sculptures’ base serve as hiding spots for moray eels and colorful lobsters, and the leaf formations attract fish that travel with their young, such as triggerfish and damselfish.

Maldives Underwater Sculpture Museum

Beyond the two figures that were cast from Dixon, the other sculptures were also cast from the staff at the Fairmont. Each statue is cast from different nationalities, which Dixon sees as symbolic of the collective global response needed to tackle the issues of climate change. “It will take a lot of global cooperation and communication. [We need to] pass around ideas that can actually help to combat sea level rise.”

This installation—with its beauty and practical purpose—is one such idea worth passing around.

Maldives Underwater Sculpture Museum

All images: Jason deCaires Taylor

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