Underwater museum helping coral thrive

Ocean Sentinel Charlie Veron. Image: Jason deCaires Taylor

An underwater museum is combining marine science and art to support the preservation and well-being of Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

The Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA), is on John Brewer Reef, within the Great Barrier Reef, Townsville, Queensland and contains dozens of awe-inspiring underwater art installations.

The installations, by celebrated underwater artist Jason deCaires Taylor, include Coral Greenhouse, which contains sculptures modelled on schoolchildren to serve as a reminder of the importance of protecting the marine world for future generations. The interior was designed to house marine creatures and provide shelter for small fish, octupus and sea urchins.

MOUA's Coral Greenhouse. Image: Cathy Finch

A short swim away sits the Ocean Sentinels, a series of deCaires Taylor sculptures based on renowned marine scientists and conservationists who have made significant contributions to reef protection. The installation, at a depth of around five metres, opened in June 2023.

Ocean Sentinel Peter Harrison. Image: Jason deCaires Taylor

At the time, deCaires Taylor said of the figures, “Although completely submerged, their shallow depth will be ideal for snorkelers to view them.

"The surfaces and forms of the artworks are designed to be colonised by marine life. It is hoped that in years to come, a variety of endemic species such as corals, sponges and hydroids will change the sculptures’ appearance in vibrant and unexpected ways.

"Like the Great Barrier Reef itself, they will become a living and evolving part of the ecosystem, emphasising both its fragility and its endurance.”

The museum can be explored by scuba divers and snorkelers who are encouraged to become citizen scientists by monitoring species and uploading photos to the iNaturalist platform, which provides crucial data for scientific research.

Image: MOUA / Coral Greenhouse / Jason deCaires Taylor

Since opening in 2019, MOUA says it has had a profound positive effect on the vibrant corals and diverse marine life within John Brewer Reef. Its studies have found that fish abundance has increased by 66% and 385 new corals have settled.

The museum’s Christian Bartens says, “Through its innovative underwater sculptures and coral planting efforts, MOUA has created artificial habitats that not only attract and provide shelter for a multitude of marine species but also promote coral growth and regeneration.

“The unique installations have revitalised and rejuvenated areas of the reef, fostering a thriving ecosystem where corals flourish and fish thrive."

Image: Adam Smith

MOUA's primary goal is to raise awareness and inspire action to safeguard the Great Barrier Reef. One simple step is sharing #LoveTheReef messages on social media to spread awareness about the importance of reef conservation and promoting responsible practices.