A recent major survey of Caribbean coral reefs has disclosed that as much as 80% has been destroyed as a result of climate change, pollution and indiscriminate tourism development. Unfortunately, this level of decimation is repeated elsewhere in the world’s oceans, and according to many scientists it is a precursor of the kind of ecosystem collapse we can expect to see as the planet warms.

But an innovative eco-arts organisation has found a way to help regenerate the coral reefs. The Marine Foundation uses a visionary approach to restoring marine habitat through the creation of underwater sculptures that are not only beautiful but are designed to encourage the growth of corals, which in turn harbour fish nurseries and eventually create new underwater habitats.

Living Sculptures in the Sea invites experiences that are not possible on land: to swim over and through artworks; to dive down and interact with marine life that has colonised and lives within the artworks, giving unique, ever-changing dimensions to the sculpture and an endless palette of creativity for artists, who can express and explore their ecological values in previously uncharted waters.

The artificial reef sculptures are sunk in an underwater sculpture park that is being created in Jemaluk Bay, Amed, Bali. The original reef in this bay was destroyed when the coral was removed for use as a building material on the island. The fishing communities who once used explosives to harvest fish from the sea (blast fishing) are moving away from their old ways and, together with Reef Check Indonesia and the Marine Foundation, are developing stewardship strategies to nurture these new coral gardens where fish can breed and where repair and regeneration of the reefs is the motivating factor.

The installation of a mermaid sculpture by Celia Gregory in May this year brought the whole Jemaluk Bay community together: fishermen helped to sink the artwork, which was blessed by the local holy man in a ritual of traditional gamelan music and adorned with wreaths of flowers made by the women of the village. In this culture based around the riches of the seas, these living pieces of art are helping to raise awareness of the need to protect and regenerate the reefs and acknowledge that their health and our own health are inextricably linked.


Lorna Howarth is the founder of The Write Factor www.thewritefactor.co.uk