Although it isn’t the first underwater museum in the world, it is a first for the USA. What, exactly, is the purpose of viewing art underwater when you can do so on dry land? Well, underwater museums aren’t all about the art; they also promote marine ecosystems at the same time with the designs of their sculptures.
The Underwater Museum of Art (UMA)
USA’s first permanent underwater art museum, the UMA will be located off the coast of Grayton Beach in Florida, at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. When it opens, the museum will feature seven sculptures, including an homage to Jacques Cousteau’s aqua-lung, a hollow pineapple, a skull, and an anamorphous octopus. All the sculptures are set in 3500-5000 pounds (1588-2268 kg) of concrete, and contain no plastic or other toxic materials. As soon as weather permits, the whole collection will be shipped to the location. After that, each sculpture will be lowered down by crane, with a distance of 20 feet between each. The actual opening of the museum will depend on the delivery of these sculptures.
Not Just Art
Described as a “barren sand flat” which translates as “underwater desert”, more than 90% of the Gulf of Mexico is not very habitable. This is precisely why it was chosen as the location for the UMA: to promote marine life! The aforementioned sculptures have been designed to facilitate and encourage sea life integration, such as coral growth, schools of fish, and embryonic oysters. According to the official UMA site, the sculptures are designed to “quickly attract a wide variety of marine life and, over time, metamorphize into a living reef”. Basically, the museum will be promoting responsible tourism, environmentalism, and creativity at the same time.
The Inspiration Above the Museum
Get it? Because the museum is underwater? Anyway, the UMA is a collaboration between the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA) and South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA). Support comes from the Walton County Tourist Development Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2017, CAA board member and artist Allison Wickey was snorkelling above one of SWARA’s artificial reefs. SWARA launched more than 200 artificial reef projects in 2017, and they were built to promote wildlife diversity, while increasing sustainable ecotourism. Alison had a lightbulb moment then, thinking to raise awareness of marine ecosystems through art. She discussed logistics with SWARA, and proposed the idea to CAA soon after. The rest, as they say, is history.
Admissions and Qualifications
Since it’s an underwater museum, you have to be a certified scuba diver to visit it. After all, the sculptures will be placed at a depth of 60 feet. Great news for all though: admission is free! Of course, you will get the best experience if you’re a scuba diver. However, if you’re not, you will also be able to reap the benefits from the surface of the water by snorkelling; marine life will be thriving there in time to come! Additionally, the UMA will also update its sculptures annually, so you can keep going back without being bored!
The other underwater museums in Mexico and Canary Islands have been successful in promoting tourism and marine life, so this is another step forward for ecotourism!
Note: All images except the “skull” image are from existing underwater museums, as the USA one isn’t open yet.