This is a first, even for the most experienced and traveled museum-goer who may have seen everything from The Hermitage in St. Petersburg to the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston: an underwater museum.
Off the coast of Ayia Napa, The Museum of Underwater Sculptures Ayia Napa (MUSAN) contains 93 works of art made from a combination of high grade marine stainless steel, and a pH neutral concrete that promotes underwater life.
In a feature, Euronews Green said it was created by British sculptor, environmentalist and photographer Jason deCaires Taylor and ranges from 8-10 meters (26-33 feet) deep, the pieces designed to attract sea life.
Of course, you'll have to be a scuba diver or a very good snorkeler who can hold his breath to get down that far but it will be worth it, the sculptures not just aesthetic but environmental as a rewilding project.
Only about 10-15 per cent of the sea bed has a solid enough substratum to allow reefs to form naturally, making artificial replacements an important part of underwater conservation, the report noted, the museum having double benefits.
“Artificial reefs are created on barren stretches of sea beds, away from healthy ecosystems. This helps to draw visitors away from natural areas allowing them space and time to recover while building new habitats,” the report said.
The sculptures aren't smooth but have a textured surface that allows corals, sponges and other microscopic organisms to attach to and grow, creating homes and food sources for other marine life, although it wasn't said how long it would be before they are overcome with cover, like sunken ships.
The intention at MUSAN, like the other sites, is for the sculptures to evolve over time as creatures inhabit the space. “A lot of sculptures transform, they have corals that grow on them, they have sponges that adhere to the surfaces,” said Taylor.
“They've become habitat spaces for marine life so that they almost work on a twofold purpose. You know, first as works of art, which mainly discuss social issues, but also as living, breathing artificial reefs.”
It's also thematic, centering around the power of information and its ability to create changes, with a special gallery of figures of children all pointing cameras at each other.
NO YELLOW SUBMARINE?
“It's about inspiring people to watch what's going on, to hold people responsible for how our world is changing and to try and affect a better outcome,” he said.
MUSAN is just a few hundred metres from Ayia Napa’s Pernera beach, within the Ayia Napa Artificial Reef Marine Protected Area (MPA).
In another feature, CNN Travel reported it cost $1.1 million to create and that Taylor's intent, besides art, was to help in the "reforesting areas of barren habitat" through the installation, which explores the relationship between man and nature.
"I'm kind of hoping that it leaves the visitor with a sense of hope along with a sense that the human impact isn't always negative. That we can reverse some of the things we've done.
"But I also hope that it instills some other messages about holding genes and corporations responsible. It's really about safeguarding the future of the younger generation,” he said. The figures are designed to sort of let natural growth settle on the substrate.
"After five or six days, I could already see a thin film of algae on each of the heads of the sculptures, which have these quite complex habitat areas, and they were already full with little juvenile fish.
"So that was very, very encouraging. I'm really looking forward to going back in a couple of months time and seeing how it aggregates marine life."
He spent more than two years working on the project that was due to open in 2020 but was delayed by the pandemic.
The museum actually begins on land, with a physical entrance on Pernera beach and a pathway leading towards a descent point with a floating platform that leads down to the submerged sculptures.
"It's obviously very different from other places," he explains. "It's not a tropical region, where we have coral reefs and all the habitat that that brings, it's more of a temperate area.
"So it will attract different species of marine life, and it's one of the first pieces I've done where the works go from the seabed up to the sea surface, with floating elements. The floating trees move quite a lot in the current — they go very, very close to the surface,” he said.