Museum of Underwater Art sculptures unveiled ahead of Great Barrier Reef dive site

Concrete sculptures that will soon be submerged on the Great Barrier Reef have arrived in North Queensland as part of the award-winning Underwater Art Museum.

Eight statues, measuring 2.2 meters tall and weighing several tons, will be installed on the ocean floor off Magnetic Island in Townsville to create a public snorkeling attraction.

“This is the first time this has been done in the Southern Hemisphere,” said Museum of Underwater Art Board Director Paul Victory.

The Ocean Sentinels installation is the museum’s second underwater sculpture project, which established its “coral greenhouse” dive site on John Brewer Reef in 2019.

A diver swims in the ‘coral greenhouse’ off the coast of Townsville.(Provided: Museum of Underwater Art)

“The sculptures are designed to facilitate habitat, both coral and equine fish habitat,” Victory said.

“It’s quite surreal”

The statues were constructed by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor using concrete and stainless steel, before being painstakingly shipped to Townsville.

A man examines a concrete sculpture
Jason deCaires Taylor designed and built the sculptures over two years in his studio in the UK.(Provided: Townsville Enterprise)

They were modeled by pioneering marine scientists and conservationists, whose bodies were transformed with marine life to create hybrid forms.

Among them is Professor Peter Harrison, who was a key member of the research team that discovered massive coral spawning on Magnetic Island in 1981.

“What I really hope is that once [they] are installed, my sculpture and all the other sculptures will begin to be covered in baby corals…and they will become a living part of Magnetic Island’s reef recovery stages.”

A man in scuba gear swims past a large coral formation
Professor Peter Harrison says he is “overwhelmed” to be chosen as the muse.(Provided: Southern Cross University)

Molly Steer, a young environmentalist from Cairns who is campaigning to eradicate single-use plastic straws, was also chosen as the model for one of the statues.

Snorkeling site still undecided

The artwork will be on display at the Museum of Tropical Queensland for the next two months before being installed in their underwater home.

But Mr Victory said the location of the dive trail had not been decided.

Two men in work clothes move a large concrete sculpture into the back of a shipping container
The sculptures have been temporarily installed at the Museum of Tropical Queensland.(Provided: Townsville Enterprise)

“There has been an extensive consultation process with the community on potential sites.”

Some residents had raised environmental concerns about one of the proposed locations.

The final site will be determined by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, with the sculptures due to be installed in June.

A concrete sculpture of a man mixed with large corals
The sculptures, including that of Peter Harrison, combine human anatomy and marine formations.(ABC North Qld: Lily Nothling)

Once operational, Victory said he expects the combination of attractions at the Museum of Underwater Art to attract between 8,000 and 12,000 visitors a year.

Another facility, planned for Palm Island, is still in the community consultation phase.

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