They were lined up like a mini army, an eerie group of the walking dead; zombies from another world. Like some weird catastrophic event – something from a B movie – a whole population on the march, frozen solid in stone and drowned underwater!
But although eerie and zombie like, the statues in front of us were beautiful too, each one uniquely different. A man in a hooded top, a fisherman in a waistcoat and cap, a barefooted lady reading a book, a mother and her young child, and a child on her own gazing up towards the surface. What seemed weird is that these statues looked more at home than we did. They seemed alive and at home where they stood. It was us who were invading their world, breathing air from our tanks and creating streams of bubbles; we were the aliens.
As our guide took us on our tour through Europe’s first underwater museum I was excited about what we’d see next. The first exhibit we were shown was a couple taking a selfie of themselves! Then it was on to a group of traditional dugout canoes manned by young boys. It represented a scene once common on Lanzarote’s shores where boys would paddle out to sea to race each other and to fish.
Our next exhibit was even more topical and relevant. “The Raft of Lampedusa”, a tribute to the refugee crisis and depicting a scene throughout the Mediterranean, that of a small boat packed with whole families including young children risking their lives as they flee from war and persecution to find a safe country to escape too and start a new life all over again. All these exhibits were brilliant and thought provoking in their own right, but the group of statues we were hovering over was the most impressive to me.
As the sun filtered down through the milky somewhat chilly water, they were very evocative, and perhaps the reason they seemed so eerie was down to the less than perfect underwater visibility. We could just see the surface some 15 metres above us, but horizontal visibility was even less and variable and wasn’t helped by the vertical swimming positions of some of the divers in our group.
Arthur and I had been diving all week with Safari Diving out of Puerto del Carmen and had been recommended to book our Museum dive with The Dive College. Situated on the south west end of Lanzarote, there are a limited number of licensed dive centres with permits to take divers to the Museum. Each diver must pay a 7 euro entrance fee in addition to the cost of the dive, which tends to cost a little more than a regular dive on the island. Being a shallow dive it’s suitable for divers of all skill levels.
The museum has been designed and created by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor, who has also created similar amazing projects in Mexico, Grenada, and the Bahamas. The sculpture park in Grenada, which was the first of its kind in the world, has been listed as one of National Geographic’s Top 25 Wonders of the World; while most recently, “Ocean Atlas”, Taylor’s Bahamas creation, is the largest single underwater sculpture in the world, measuring 5 meters high and weighing over 60 tons.
Taylor’s statues are made up of a mixture of ingredients including wire and concrete, and are situated on sandy bottoms waiting to be transformed into completely new ecosystems, breathing rich new life into an area of low diversity.
The Atlantic Museum is best viewed as it is now by scuba diving, but soon areas will be created at shallower depths so snorkellers can easily swim down and enjoy the sculptures. As the museum grows and takes shape, a variety of very ambitious and exciting pieces will be added, including a giant mirror to create the illusion of a ‘pool’ in the sea, a large wall to create the walled garden, and an underwater fountain complete with actual lighting as its centrepiece.
As we left the amazing statues of men, women and children, we followed our guide into what we were told in our pre-dive briefing will be the amazing garden area. In this spot there were already a number of fascinating statues. Half human, half plant, we swam over to a series of giant cacti. Some had human heads, some didn’t. One was clasping its hands with its arms stretched out – like a gardener tending to his crops – his feet forming part of a cactus.
The Atlantic Museum project is massive. Originally 500 statues were planned at a cost of 700,000 euros of public funding. There was some controversy regarding the cost, and perhaps due to complaints things have been held up, as to date only 50-odd statues have been sunk. Due to statues only being permitted to be sunk in the winter season, no more are planned till later this year; but when it is finally completed, Lanzarote’s Underwater Museum will be fabulous and a real boost for tourism on the island (especially for Playa Blanca).
We were at the end of our tour and had reached what was undoubtedly my favourite piece. I’m not sure if it’s actually called the Tree of Life, but that’s what I would have called it. An artificial tree reaching up to the sky, it was home to hundreds of tiny fish taking shelter within its branches, feeding on the algae already beginning to cover it. Like tiny little lights, the fish reflected and bounced light all around the tree, making it look like it was being illuminated by loads of tiny fairy lights blinking off and on as the fish turn one way and the next. A lone predator watched them, waiting to pounce; it must have swum by and chanced upon this oasis in the desert.
Taylor’s pioneering projects have become hugely successful in terms of marine conservation, stimulating people to engage and become aware of the need to protect our fragile marine world. His creations are works of art that grow and change as the marine world shapes them, colours them and adds to their beauty. It will be interesting to see when his Atlantic Museum is finally finished – and where Taylor’s next project will take him.
Read Gavin’s article about diving other parts of Lanzarote here.
All of Gavin’s diving was arranged by Safari Diving Lanzarote.