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Underwater Sculptures in Thailand Create New Dive Site and Artificial Reef

By Scuba Diving Partner | Authored On September 29, 2016
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Underwater Sculptures in Thailand Create New Dive Site and Artificial Reef

Backpackers on the Southeast Asia circuit know to beeline it from Bangkok to Thailand’s diving capital — the island of Koh Tao on the western side of the Gulf of Thailand — to get their open-water and divemaster certifications in a cheap and cheerful location. While there are better reefs elsewhere in Thailand (most notably, in the Andaman Sea), Koh Tao’s water is invitingly warm, there’s a dive shop offering a deal on nearly every corner and the island’s vibrant party atmosphere makes up for what the heavily-trafficked sites can lack in color and diversity.

But the recent installation of an underwater sculpture garden-turned artificial reef by Bangkok-based French artist Valérie Goutard is giving those of us who already have our certs a new reason to get in the water here — and help promote the message of ocean conservation while we’re at it.

The Ocean Utopia project was installed in March 2016 on the sandy seafloor in Tao Tong Bay off the south coast of the island in an area where the former coral reefs had died; mass coral bleaching has been a big problem in these parts. The area, now a protected marine zone, is being used for the regeneration of corals — many of which, it is hoped, will start their new lives atop Goutard’s artwork.

Composed of three human-shaped sculptures and various concrete screens that incorporate bronze, concrete and coral as their mediums, Ocean Utopia was arranged like a city’s architectural layout, says the artist. Fluid lines call to mind the movement and strength of water and allow for a “fantasy of human life under the sea,” she says. The sculptures sit in about 40 feet of water and stretch to just under 10 feet tall, putting them within viewing-range of snorkelers when the water is clear. Arranged in a triangle shape about 30 feet apart, the works invite divers to fin between them and across the sandy bottom to explore.

Bits of coral that have been implanted here are the building blocks for new coral gardens that, it is hoped, will come to flourish on the project’s concrete bases and textured vertical screens.

“I wish coral reefs to grow onto some specific areas of the artwork,” says Goutard, “allowing a complete and free interaction between the strength of nature and my artistic creation.”

The project — the artist’s first exhibition set under water — is a collaboration with the New Heaven Reef Conservation Program, a Koh Tao-based NGO that helped Goutard select the coral species (sourced from pieces of coral that were broken off accidentally by divers or in natural events) to incorporate into her project.

For more information:

Underwater Sculptures in Koh Tao, Thailand, Ocean Utopia

Thailand’s dive capital adds underwater art and sculpture for scuba divers to enjoy.

Courtesy Ocean Below/Elisabeth Lauwerys