By Cacinda Maloney
He is of Mayan Indian decent and I am following him, although I know not where. He is the expert and I am his inept follower. Soon we approach what appears to be a fire ring, but it is not ablaze. He enters first and motions for each of us to go thru the ring. I follow, being sure to keep myself tight through the middle.
A little ways further we see an old abandoned house with a red brick chimney. Suddenly I see smoke puffing out of its smokestack. It was from the master diver, as he pauses, removes his regulator from his mouth and then makes the smoke puff out of the chimney by way of his air from his tank. Cool dive master trick! I am amused, and realize that even though he has fun, I can see how skilled he is at his job and how safety is a concern for him, of which I appreciate.
We linger on and I stare in awe as he takes us around to show us what we are really here to see today. As I approach, I see what appears to be a old man staring up at the Sun, arching his neck in such a way that I thought he was reaching for the Greek God Poseidon, crying out to be saved from his life here on earth. The way his eyes stare upwards to the Heavens gives me a shivering chill up my spine, as I am mesmerized by his lingering face. Locals say they know who he is and that there are many more like him.
I have been to this country many times before, actually hundreds of times, but I have never seen anything like this. I am an avid scuba diver, with over 150 dives, but this is a special event, even for me. Soon I see the rest of them with algae growing thru their nostrils and starfish buried in their eyeballs, or coral growing out of their necks, it is quite a sight to see. It is eerie to stare at each one of them and to try to grasp the depths of who they are and how they got here.
They are the people of Isla Muijers and the Cancun region of Mexico: doctors, lawyers, bread makers, couch surfers, goddesses, business owners, hotel workers, men burying their heads in the sand. Young, old, fat, short, glasses, watches, coats, masks, you name it, it is all down here.
After a bit of research, I find that the sculptures are the imagination and work of Artist Jason Taylor, who painstakingly sculpted a collection of up to 500 statues which are submerged off the coast of Cancun, Mexico. The idea behind the project is brilliant! With over 750,000 visitors each year, Cancun had immense pressure on its local reef, including the famous Manchones Reef. If the sculptures could lure the divers/water enthusiasts away from the reef and help create a new reef at the same time, then possibly they could save the reef from dying and help regenerate the reef, plus start a new one!It was constructed to be assimilated by the ocean and transformed from inert objects into living, breathing coral reefs. All the sculptures will change over time as the marine life creates a home here. I have seen a similar project like this before, of attempting to create another reef in Aquaba, Jordan, but here they did it by sinking a ship.
There is even a full-sized Volkswagen bug down here (actually two) that was designed especially to be a lobster home! Next time I go diving, I am getting a go pro, so I can put a red filter on it and put that stick inside of the window to the bug, so I can spot those lobsters.
With Taylor being a master diver himself, he had seen the reef deteriorate and wanted to help save the local reef by creating a new, interesting destination for snorkelers and divers.
Forbes Travel Magazine has described it as “one of the world’s most unique travel destinations.”
I have had over 150 scuba dives and have never seen anything like this before, as it is quite unique, although Taylor has created one in Grenada. With a boat load of divers , there was 11 travel writers/divers and when asked if we wanted to see the reef or the sculpture garden, 10 of us wanted to see the sculptures! Traveller Gary Arnt even quipped that “there are reefs everywhere in the world” but all of us wanted to see the sculptures!
By putting his sculptures in shallow and barren areas, Taylor not only replicates the conditions necessary to stimulate coral growth, but ensures that divers and snorkelers will take the time to go out and see them. The area where we went was specifically for divers and the sculptures are at around 30 feet in depth, but there are other sites that snorkelers can access at 10-12 feet, as well. The simplest way to visit the museum though is through local tour boat operators. The outfitter I went with was Aquaworld. Over time these sculptures will change due to the natural progression of the life they proliferate and so won’t look like the photographs I have taken here, so bookmark my site and come back after you have gone to see the difference!
Where is it? The sculpture garden is located in the waters between Cancun and Isla Mujeres in Mexico in the Yucatan area, obviously, access via Cancun Airport.
What will it cost? Prices for divers range between $45 and $65 USD for one-tank dives.
When to go? Cancun is warm and sunny year-round, with water temperatures ranging from 78 to 80 degrees in the winter and 82 to 84 degrees in the summer.
How can I learn more about the exhibit? Visit Cancun’s CVB website.
Disclosure: This dive trip to the Cancun Underwater Museum (MUSA) was sponsored by AquaWorld.
Recommended Reading about Diving
Here are a few other articles I wrote about Mexico: