Museum of Underwater Art – Townsville, Australia - Atlas Obscura

Museum of Underwater Art

Townsville, Australia

A series of sculptures beneath the waves promote ocean conservation and support coral reefs. 

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Not many museums literally take your breath away. But then Australia’s Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) isn’t like most museums.

The first—and only—underwater art museum in the Southern Hemisphere, the nonprofit MOUA is set off the coast of Queensland, 40 to 50 feet below the waves.

The museum is actually spread across four locations, all accessible from the port city of Townsville (an area often overshadowed by more popular destinations nearby, such as Cairns or the Whitsundays).

Its underwater sculpture installations were created to raise awareness of the issues facing the iconic Great Barrier Reef—including coral bleaching and warming water temperatures—and to boost tourism in the area. Designed by underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, with the support of the Queensland state government, the museum aims to challenge the way we think about ocean conservation, and to help create new areas for coral growth.

All of these sculptures are anchored to the seabed—except for one. The MOUA’s first installation, unveiled when the museum opened in December 2019, is called “Ocean Siren.”

Standing just off the Strand Jetty of Townsville, it’s made from stainless steel, translucent acrylic, and 202 LED lights. Hooked up to a temperature gauge on Davies Reef—part of the Great Barrier Reef—it changes color as a real-time response to the conditions in the water. As temperatures rise, visitors can watch the sculpture (modeled on a local student and Wulgurukaba descendant named Takoda Johnson) change from a calming blue to an alarming orange and red—a visible, tangible reminder of the dangers facing marine ecosystems.

Scheduled to open in April 2020—but delayed till later in the year due to the global pandemic—the “Coral Greenhouse” on John Brewer Reef, some 45 miles from Townsville, contains 20 “reef guardian” sculptures. Placed in an underwater greenhouse that divers can enter and explore, and secured on a sandy base, the marine-grade concrete sculptures are covered by coral. The more covered they become, the thinking goes, the more marine life they’ll attract to the reef.

More underwater art installations are scheduled to open off Magnetic Island and Palm Island in 2021.

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