AttractionsA hauntingly beautiful underwater art exhibition protects and promotes reef conservation in Queensland, Australia.

Meet the silent guardians of the Great Barrier Reef

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‘Ocean Sentinels’ is the Museum of Underwater Art’s third art installation in the Townsville North Queensland region.
‘Ocean Sentinels’ is the Museum of Underwater Art’s third art installation in the Townsville North Queensland region. Photo Credit: Museum of Underwater Art

With ocean conservation at the heart of its mission, the Museum of Underwater Art, situated on the ocean floor in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef, blends art with reef restoration in hopes of inspiring positive environmental action among visitors.

World leading underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor is the creative mastermind behind the museum’s art installations. He works in tandem with other local community artists to create symbolic and poignant sculptures to exhibit within the Great Barrier Reef itself to convey the importance of reef restoration.

Visitors who wish to view these underwater masterpieces can snorkel or dive within the area and interact with the sculptures either by themselves or via the Museum of Underwater Art’s approved dive operators. These underwater trails can cater to leisure snorkelers, certified divers and even first-time divers.

One of the museum’s first installations is the Ocean Siren, a colour-changing humanoid sculpture erected in the waters alongside North Queensland’s Strand Jetty in Townsville. The Ocean Siren reacts to live water temperature data and changes colour in response to live variations in water temperature.

The largest installation in the museum is titled the Coral Greenhouse, filled with 20 reef guardians which have been specially created with stainless steel and PH-neutral materials for corals to be planted on. It also houses Jason deCaires Taylor’s first-ever underwater building.

“I hope that in years to come a variety of endemic species such as corals, sponges and hydroids will change the sculptures' appearance in vibrant and unpredictable ways,” said the museum’s artist.
“I hope that in years to come a variety of endemic species such as corals, sponges and hydroids will change the sculptures' appearance in vibrant and unpredictable ways,” said the museum’s artist. Photo Credit: Museum of Underwater Art

The Ocean Sentinels is the latest installation in the series featuring eight imposing and stoic creatures seemingly made up of both the sea and land. Each standing 2.2m tall, these aquatic humanoids are deemed the protectors of the Great Barrier Reef.

They are currently part of an on-land exhibition at the Museum of Tropical Queensland from March to May, where visitors can get an opportunity to see them in their raw, pristine form before they are brought to their permanent underwater home in June to undergo a dramatic transformation by nature.

The surfaces and forms of the artworks are designed to be colonised by marine life. It is hoped that over the course of several years, corals, sponges and other marine life will thrive on these sculptures and change their appearance — transforming them into a living and evolving part of the ecosystem.

Paul Victory, the Museum of Underwater Art’s Board Director, said the exhibit is about connecting with as many people as possible, to spark meaningful conversation around the Great Barrier Reef and its future.

“The chance to see the world-class sculptures in the flesh and learn about their stories, promoting reef conservation and the link between art and science to a wider audience, is incredible,” Victory shared. “This unique exhibit allows the public to enjoy and experience the next stage of the Museum of Underwater Art and learn about the important work we've been doing with coral planting, reef health surveys, providing education and work opportunities for Indigenous guides, and more.”

The Museum of Underwater Art is predicted to attract more than 50,000 visitors annually, and generate over A$22m (US$16m) each year for Townsville’s visitor economy. This unique tourist attraction is a timely move that can help spur Australia’s tourism recovery following its border reopening, and further capture the influx of travellers when they visit the country during the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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