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Underwater attractions: sunken sculpture parks, submerged museums, and undersea dining

Underwater attractions are springing up in seas, lakes and oceans across the globe – and the trend for sunken experiences is growing.

From sunken tanks and Boeing 747s to museums with marine viewing galleries, underwater attractions are becoming something of a trend.

France recently opened three underwater sculpture parks off the coast of Corsica, Marseille and Cannes. Collector François Ollandini has submerged sculptures by Marc Petit for an underwater attraction in Corsica’s Mediterranean Sea (via The Art Newspaper) while Marseille’s Musée Subaquatique, founded by Anthony Lacanaud, also features a sculpture by Petit.

Lacanaud’s inspiration for the sub-attraction was Mexico’s Museo Subacuático de Arte in Cancún, created in 2009 by sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor. It now boasts more than 500 sculptures.

Taylor built the world’s first underwater sculpture park in 2006, in the Caribbean Sea. He also created Museo Atlántico, the first underwater sculpture park in Europe. This opened off the coast of Lanzarote in 2016. It is designed as a huge artificial reef and consists of 10 different groups of sculptures. Models used for sculptures of human figures are residents here.

But it’s not just sculpture gardens and museums going nautical. Recent developments in the attractions space range from underwater dining at Andasi and sunken yoga at Dubai Aquarium, to underwater views at Pairi Daiza, dives to the Titanic, and even an undersea Boeing 747.

Cannes’ underwater eco-museum

Cannes’ underwater eco-museum has now submerged six sculptures by Jason deCaires Taylor off the island of Sainte-Marguerite. It is Taylor’s first underwater eco-museum in France and the Mediterranean. His work can also be found in the waters of Oslo, Granada, the Bahamas and the Thames.

cannes underwater museum
Jason deCaires Taylor

The eco-museum includes six statues, all made from ecological marine materials. The sculptures were taken out to sea via barge. They will eventually become an essential part of the marine ecosystem, providing a refuge for algae, shells and corals.

“Mixing beauty and learning, the Cannes underwater eco-museum symbolises my attachment to two fundamental values: cultural necessity and the preservation of the environment,” said David Lisnard, Mayor of Cannes.

“The installation of these sculptures in Cannes now creates an enlarged, safe swimming area, a wonderful setting to discover its underwater life,” added Lisnard.

Underwater Museum of Art (UMA), Florida

The Underwater Museum of Art (UMA) opened in 2018 as the first permanent underwater sculpture garden in the US. It is located in the Gulf of Mexico in Walton County, Florida. It lies at a depth of 58 feet and is off the shore of Grayton Beach State Park.

Every year, the museum installs a selection of sculptural works, attracting a variety of marine life to eventually become a living reef. It was created by the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA) and the South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA).

This underwater attraction was designed for exploration by divers. Here, sculptures alongside artificial reefs provide a protected marine environment and the opportunity for biological replenishment. Seven sculptures are part of the original permanent exhibition.

These include ‘Propeller in Motion’ by Marek Anthony and ‘Concrete Rope Reef Spheres’ by Evelyn Tickle. ‘The Grayt Pineapple’ by Rachel Herring aims to help small fish thrive, while ‘SWARA Skull’ by Vince Tatum is a giant skull brimming with coral and marine growth.

Underwater museum planned for Lake Titicaca

Another underwater museum is planned to preserve archaeological sites in Lake Titicaca. The project will cost $10 million and was going to open in 2020. However, COVID-19 led to delays. Exhibits will be inside in a building, which will be half-underwater with glass walls, displaying the “hidden city” in Lake Titicaca.

lake titicaca

Bolivia’s Culture and Tourism Minister, Wilma Alanoca, said: “We found more than 10,000 pieces like vessels, gold pieces, ceramic, and thanks to the investigations it was possible to determinate that they belong to Tiwanaku culture and pre-Inca civilisations.”

Lake Titicaca covers more than 8,500 square kilometres and creates a natural border between Peru and Bolivia. This underwater attraction aims to boost tourism in the region as well as creating more jobs. The Bolivian government is financing the project, with help from Unesco.

Underwater military museum in Aqaba, Jordan

Last year, Jordan opened a sub-aquatic military museum dive site off the coast of Aqaba. This underwater attraction allows divers to explore tanks, a military crane, a troop carrier, an anti-aircraft gun and a combat helicopter. The military machines are also stationed along coral reefs to imitate a battle formation.

Some of the vehicles lie 15 to 20 metres below the surface of the water. Meanwhile, others lie at 20 to 28 metres. Visitors can discover them via snorkelling or diving, as well as by glass-bottom boat. Organisers previously removed all hazardous materials from the vehicles, in order to protect marine life and its environment.

The vehicles came from the Jordanian Army. They include a Chieftain main battle tank (Khalid Shir) with a 120mm tank gun, an unarmed FV104 Samaritan tracked military ambulance and an M42 Duster anti-aircraft gun with twin 40mm Bofors gun (via Popular Mechanics).

Also under the surface are an FV701 Ferret armoured car and a South African Ratel (Honey Badger) 6 x 6 wheeled infantry fighting vehicle. The most important vehicle is a Royal Jordanian Air Force AH-1F Cobra attack helicopter.

Panoramic submarine tunnel in Primošten, Croatia

However, large bodies of water don’t just offer a home for underwater attractions like sculpture parks and museums. Croatia’s Primošten is hoping to build a panoramic submarine tunnel with transparent walls for pedestrians.

underwater tunnel

Stipe Petrina, mayor of Primošten, said: “We are talking about a panoramic pedestrian tunnel with transparent walls, which will be 60 metres-long and 6 metres-wide, which would lie at 18 metres below sea level at the deepest part of the seafloor in Porat.

“That’s all I can tell you about the project, for which some conceptual solutions have already been developed, and we know what it will look like,” added Petrina. There will be catering and other facilities located at the entrance and exit of the underwater tunnel.

Sub-aquatic dining at Andasi, Thailand

Central Pattana launched Aquaria Phuket, the largest aquarium in Thailand, in September 2019. Part of the attraction is Andasi, the world’s largest underwater restaurant and Asia’s first underwater bar. The eatery is at the Central Phuket shopping mall.

Andasi offers a dining experience surrounded by 25,000 sea creatures and 300 species, as well as in-water statues of Thai folklore gods Suvannamaccha and Hanuman. In addition, Andasi puts on an evening mermaid show featuring dancers doing underwater routines.

aquaria phuket

Dr Nattakit Tangpoonsinthana is executive vice president of marketing at Central Pattana. He said Aquaria Phuket and Andasi are “the final jigsaw pieces that complete Central Phuket’s world-class attractions”.

“This latest world-class attraction will elevate Phuket to be a true ‘global beach lifestyle destination’ in addition to help push forward economic growth and the tourism industry of Phuket and Thailand,” said Tangpoonsinthana.

Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA)

One new attraction, the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) recently opened on the Great Barrier Reef in Townsville, Australia. The only underwater art museum in the Southern Hemisphere features sculptures by Jason deCaires Taylor. It aims to highlight reef conservation, restoration and education.

Ocean Siren statue at MOUA

Located in the John Brewer Reef at the Greater Barrier Reef Marine Park, MOUA boasts a ‘coral greenhouse’. The structure and statues, known as ‘reef guardians’, are designed to be totally absorbed by the reef.

‘Ocean Siren’ is the only part of the museum visible from above the surface water. It is based on an indigenous girl from the Wulgurukaba named Takoda Johnson. The sculpture also reacts to live water temperatures and changes colour.

Underwater statue at MOUA

Solar panels power the LED lighting, making the statue self-sufficient. Taylor said that it is “a visual representation of the current conditions out on the reef and can also potentially warn of risks to coral reefs from warming seas”.

MOUA is likely to produce more than AU$42 million in regional economic activity annually. In addition, it will attract an additional 50,000 visitors to the area each year. The museum will create 182 jobs in the region.

Underwater attractions at Marassi Galleria in Bahrain

Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo has celebrated World Wildlife Day for the past three years with underwater yoga sessions. The 270-degree acrylic aquarium walkthrough tunnel provides a peaceful yoga venue, with classes surrounded by sharks and stingrays.

Eagle Hills and Emaar Entertainment have also formed a joint venture to develop the Marassi Aquarium and Underwater Zoo at shopping mall Marassi Galleria in Bahrain. Located at the Marassi Al Bahrain development, this underwater attraction will house a state-of-the-art aquarium with immersive tunnels as well as interactive digital exhibits.

underwater yoga dubai aquarium

Ahmad Al Matrooshi, managing director of Emaar Properties, said: “After witnessing the success of our Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, it was decided to replicate the experience in the Bahraini market.

“Marassi Aquarium and Underwater Zoo will provide innovative experiences to suit individuals and groups.”

Underwater accommodation at Pairi Daiza attraction in Belgium

The Pairi Daiza Resort in Belgium offers visitors the chance to enjoy an immersive overnight stay in its themed accommodation.

‘Polar Bear House’ offers standard and underwater views of the bears. Meanwhile ‘Walrus House’ features underwater views of the marine mammal in its tank. ‘Penguin House’ boasts both standard and underwater views of the aquatic birds.

Pairi Daiza Resort
Pairi Daiza Resort

Mathieu Goedefroy, a spokesperson for the zoo, said (via Mail Online): “However, curious as they are, our polar bears are always up for a playing session through the window. It’s important to know that these underwater rooms are a well-appreciated enrichment to the life of these animals. They use them as a ‘television screen’.

“Certainly, the bears and walruses seem very interested and curious to see what’s going on behind the windows,” added Goedefroy. “So if there’s one thing our resort guests don’t have, it’s privacy. But that is something our animals do have because they all have access to enormous territories where they can easily hide if they don’t want to be seen.”

Dominican Republic’s Living Museum in the Sea

Researchers from the Indiana University Center for Underwater Science joined forces with the government of the Dominican Republic to create their fifth ‘Living Museum in the Sea’ at La Caleta Underwater National Park, named ‘1725 Nuestra Señora de Begoña’.

The subaqueous museums preserve historic shipwrecks and their coastal environments. Visitors can reach them by snorkelling as well as scuba diving. “The Living Museums in the Sea model provides a sustainable alternative to treasure hunting,” said Charles Beeker, director of the Center for Underwater Science.

living museum in the sea

“IU researched the 1725 Begoña – a Spanish merchant vessel that sank in the early 18th century – for several years, with recovered diagnostic artefacts conserved and interpreted for display in the Atarazanas Museum. But the primary mission is in situ preservation and creation of an underwater exhibit, protected for this and future generations.”

There is also a ‘Living Museum in the Sea’ at the Quedagh Merchant wreck. This was abandoned by pirate Captain William Kidd. The Dominican Republic’s first underwater museum, 1724 Guadalupe Underwater Archaeological Preserve, dates back to 2004. Meanwhile, the Morales Underwater Archaeological Preserve was made on Guarango Reef in 2011.

Boeing 747 sunk for Dive Bahrain

Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA) successfully submerged a 70-metre Boeing 747 as part of an underwater attraction, Dive Bahrain, which opened to the public in August 2019. The first phase of Dive Bahrain saw divers and tugboats working to relocate the plane to its new home in the Arabian Gulf.

Located off the coast of Bahrain, the plane sits at around 20m deep. Dive Bahrain is an eco-friendly diving experience. It also fosters new coral growth and offers a safe haven for marine creatures. The Boeing 747 is the largest aircraft ever to be deliberately sunken.

There will also be more sunken items alongside the jet. This includes a traditional Bahraini pearl merchant’s house as well as artificial coral reefs. There will also be other sculptures out of eco-friendly materials. Dive Bahrain will hopefully increase environmental awareness on the importance of preserving marine life.

dive bahrain

HE Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayan is the Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism and Chairman of the BTEA Board. He said: “We are proud to launch this unique eco-friendly project in partnership with local diving companies, the Supreme Council for Environment and the private sector.

“The new theme park will undoubtedly emerge as a global tourist attraction. The world-class project covers an extensive area, and will provide an unforgettable experience for both tourists and diving enthusiasts alike.”

Dive to the RMS Titanic from 2021

How’s this for an underwater experience? OceanGate Expeditions will offer weekly dives to the wreck site of RMS Titanic from 2021. Expeditions are available to researchers and paying customers, referred to as ‘mission specialists’, for a mere $125,000.

The sail from St John’s Newfoundland will take divers 3,800 metres below the surface of the North Atlantic. According to Bloomberg, three dozen people have already booked seats to the Titanic. Approximately half of these have also booked $250,000 tickets to become space tourists with Virgin Galactic.

Welcoming mission specialists

However, potential customers will be subject to an interview. Stockton Rush, president of OceanGate Expeditions, says: “We don’t want someone who is used to being catered to—a prima donna. We don’t have chocolates on the pillow.”

titanic

“There are better wrecks, maybe even more important wrecks. But people don’t know what they are, and it’s hard to sell something when somebody doesn’t know,” said Rush. “We don’t take passengers, we don’t do trips, we don’t do rides. We’re doing an expedition.”

The ‘mission specialists’ will help researchers with a technical survey of the wreck and debris field. They will be part of the first dives to the Titanic in 15 years. The ship’s crew includes Bridgette Buxton, an underwater archaeologist from the University of Rhode Island, as well as Steve Ross, a fisheries biologist from the University of North Carolina.

“All the bones are gone,” added Rush. “There are no bodies down there. There are boots and shoes and clothes that show where people were 100 years ago, and that is very sombre. The amount of time we are going to spend out will allow us to find things that others have missed. It’s probably the most exciting thing in the neighbourhood for fish.”

The ReefLine underwater attraction opening next year in Miami Beach

Meanwhile, a new underwater sculpture park, snorkel trail and artificial reef at Miami Beach will open in December 2021.

OMA will design the ReefLine’s masterplan, as well as a distinct sculpture within. It will also collaborate with marine biologists, researchers, architects and coastal engineers on the project. The ReefLine will provide a habitat for endangered reef organisms. In addition to this, it will promote biodiversity and enhance coastal resilience. 

the reefline miami beach
OMA

Construction of this underwater attraction will take place in phases. The first phase will open with permanent installations by Leandro Erlich and Shohei Shigematsu/OMA. Later commissions will come from Ernesto Neto and Agustina Woodgate

Erlich will create an underwater version of his sand-sculpted ‘traffic jam’, titled Concrete Coral. OMA/Shigematsu’s sculpture is a stair-like, 3D structure that will provide layered zones for coral reef growth.

“We are excited to collaborate again with Ximena on a project that brings together culture and community,” said Shigematsu. “The ReefLine is a unique project that brings attention to and mitigates the dangers of climate change in Miami Beach, while simultaneously enriching the city’s vivid art scene.”

Cetacean design for Australian Underwater Discovery Centre

The Australian Underwater Discovery Centre (AUDC) will be partially submerged when it opens in Busselton, Geographe Bay. It will become the world’s largest marine observatory, designed by Baca Architects.

Busstelton Jetty Underwater Discovery Centre

AUDC is scheduled to debut by December 2022. The cetacean-inspired design looks like a whale’s head breaking through the surface of the water. Busselton Jetty boasts more than 300 different marine species, including tropical and sub-tropical corals.

Visitors will get to explore galleries above sea level, before descending below to the observatory, which will feature glass windows for underwater viewing. There will be a seabed level restaurant, as well as a viewing point for sculptures on the ocean floor. 

Underwater museum to preserve the shipwreck of The Amsterdam

Plans for a new underwater museum to preserve the shipwreck of The Amsterdam were recently revealed by ZJA architects. The Amsterdam is wrecked off the coast of Hastings, UK. It will be returned to its home port of Amsterdam, and then an underwater museum will be built around it.

Glass walls will let visitors view the wreck and watch diving archaeologists. There will be exhibition spaces featuring objects from the excavation, as well as research facilities and laboratories. The museum is likely to open in 2025.

amsterdam shipwreck

“Visiting this venue is like entering a theatre that stages the investigation in progress and engages the public with the discoveries the divers and researchers do inside the wreck,” said ZJA. “Events will be organized that show the finds and results and put them into context.”

Underwater attractions: is it better down where it’s wetter?

Underwater attractions: Little Mermaid theme park (YouTube)

So, we’ve seen some interesting developments in underwater attractions in recent years. However, the majority come in the form of museums and sculpture parks.

In the future, will we see a Little Mermaid underwater theme park? After all, life is the bubbles, under the sea.

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Bea Mitchell

A journalist specialising in entertainment and attractions, Bea loves theme parks (mainly Disney) and is particularly interested in things of a gothic, horror or fantasy nature.

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