• An underwater forest of 93 sculptures sits beneath the waves of a tourist resort in Cyprus.
  • The exhibits are made of materials designed to attract marine life.
  • They also highlight how climate change is impacting our ocean.

Looking out to sea from Pernera Beach in Cyprus, you would be forgiven for not noticing the resort’s new $1.1 million Museum of Underwater Sculpture Ayia Napa (MUSAN) tourist attraction, which opened in August 2021. It sits beyond the beach on the seafloor, 8 to 10 metres beneath the waves of the Mediterranean sea.

Here, art installation meets environmental conservation, bringing to life an underwater world of 93 exhibits each carved using inert ph-neutral material, which is designed to attract marine life.

these are marine sculptures of giant trees in the Mediterranean sea
‘Living’ sculptures of giant trees, and even people, are turning art into marine conservation beneath the waters of the Mediterranean sea.'
Image: MUSAN

A haven for marine life

The sculptures – weighing up to 13 tonnes – were lowered to the seabed by crane and positioned at different depths. Over time, the installation should evolve into a haven for different forms of marine flora and fauna, attracting microorganisms that fish and other species feed on to boost the area’s biodiversity.

these underwater statues could promote health in the marine ecosystem
The statutes are designed to encourage natural marine growth to settle on them.
Image: MUSAN

As well as a home for sea creatures, this underwater gallery is made for scuba divers, snorkellers and freedivers to explore, gliding in and out of giant spiky trees, imposing plantlife, floating foliage and various representations of people – interacting with objects, staring into the oceanic void, even kids playing hide and seek.

The sunken forest explores the relationship between humans and nature, emphasizing the concepts of rewilding the world and reforesting areas of barren habitat, the artist Jason deCaires Taylor told CNN Travel. It incorporates numerous references to climate change and habitat loss and pollution, which Taylor sees as the defining issues of our era.

“They’re designed to sort of let natural growth settle on the substrate,” he told CNN Travel. “After five or six days, I could already see a thin film of algae on each of the heads of the sculptures, which have these quite complex habitat areas, and they were already full with little juvenile fish.”

Rewilding natural spaces

In 2006, Taylor established the world’s first underwater sculpture site in Grenada, West Indies.

This was followed by a more ambitious project in the waters surrounding Cancún off the coast of Mexico. The Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA) features more than 500 submerged sculptures installed across a marine park covering 420 square metres of seabed, which actively promotes coral habitat and reef recovery.

“It is named a museum for a simple reason,” Taylor said. “Every day we dredge, pollute and overfish our oceans, while museums are places of preservation, of conservation, and of education. They are places where we keep objects that have great value to us. Our oceans are sacred.”

an infographic showing how more than 37,4000 species are threatened with extinction (28% of all species)
Sharks and rays are under growing pressure, pushing many species to the brink.
Image: IUCN

Under threat

Factors like climate change and overfishing have left around a third of ocean dwellers like shark and ray populations, amphibians and crustaceans under threat, and endangered more than a third of the planet’s coral reefs, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?

Our ocean covers 70% of the world’s surface and accounts for 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. We can't have a healthy future without a healthy ocean - but it's more vulnerable than ever because of climate change and pollution.

Tackling the grave threats to our ocean means working with leaders across sectors, from business to government to academia.

The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the World Resources Institute, convenes the Friends of Ocean Action, a coalition of leaders working together to protect the seas. From a programme with the Indonesian government to cut plastic waste entering the sea to a global plan to track illegal fishing, the Friends are pushing for new solutions.

Climate change is an inextricable part of the threat to our oceans, with rising temperatures and acidification disrupting fragile ecosystems. The Forum runs a number of initiatives to support the shift to a low-carbon economy, including hosting the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, who have cut emissions in their companies by 9%.

Is your organization interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

While Taylor has embedded his ‘living’ sculptures at various sites around the world to help rebuild local marine ecosystems, action on climate change is urgently needed on a global scale to turn the tide and protect the planet’s seas and oceans.