Jason deCaires Taylor Underwater Sculptures

Susan Elnicki
Coral Carnival - JasonCaires Taylor
Coral Carnival - JasonCaires Taylor

To resurrect barren areas of the ocean floor, environmentalists around the globe have erected artificial reefs made of everything from scuttled ships and oil rigs to abandoned cars and construction rubble. Their goal: To restore marine habitats and coax aquatic life back to damaged areas under the waves.

In May 2006, an innovative British artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, took a unique approach to man-made reefs by submerging works of art to create the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park off the west coast of Grenada. The area had sustained serious damage from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and Taylor’s 75 statues became the foundation for coral and microscopic organisms to attach, colonize and rebuild the marine ecosystem. For the past 17 years, the 800 square meter park has been rejuvenated with aquatic life that includes coral, sponges, sea urchins, sharks, turtles and schools of fish.

Coral Carnival-JasondeCaires Talyor
Coral Carnival-JasondeCaires Talyor

Taylor’s new installation of sculptures, called Coral Carnival, promises to not only expand the ecological recovery efforts at the park, but also celebrate Grenada’s rich traditions and history. In 2023, Taylor and four local artists crafted and submerged 25 new human sculptures inspired by Grenada’s annual festival of Spicemas.

Since colonial times, Spicemas has blended French-Catholic Carnival and African cultural traditions into festivities that feature dazzling attire, dance performances and parades to the rhythms of Calypso and Soca music. When slaves were emancipated in 1834, freed Africans joined in the activities, folding their customs into the mix.

Coral Carnival - JasondeCaires Taylor
Coral Carnival - JasondeCaires Taylor

Taylor’s new Spicemas statues are dressed in colorful costumes that represent the cultural heritage of the island. Some satirize the thoughts and actions of slave masters from the past; others wear wire mesh masks that symbolize the loss of identity through slavery, and many are clad in circular mirrors and dusted with white talcum powder to warn away enemies.

The life-sized sculptures are cast from Grenada residents, made of high-grade stainless steel and pH-neutral marine cement, and designed with surfaces that encourage algae and coral to attach and grow. Their bases look like rock formations with holes and shelters for marina life to inhabit, such as octopuses and lobster.

The new pieces are only 3 meters from the surface, making them easy for snorkelers and scuba divers to see. To visit them, you can take a guided tour on a glass-bottom boat or tie up your own boat at a mooring ball. By the time you arrive, tiny aquatic creatures will be clinging to the statues and beginning to build a new marine ecosystem.

Taylor’s photographs will take you on a journey from creating the statues, painting their Spicemas regalia, installing them into the water and anchoring them on the ocean floor to welcome new life forms at the underwater park. To learn more about Jason deCaires Taylor and his art and conservation projects, go to underwatersculpture.com

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