When Dave got our PADI certifications back in December, my only regret was not having done it sooner.
It’s hard to explain it to someone who’s never been scuba diving, but being submerged in the ocean for nearly an hour at the time is beyond what I could’ve ever imagined.
It’s like going to another planet. It’s exploring a new world up close that you never really knew was there.
Yes, you’ve read about fish and you’ve probably watched a few David Attenborough documentaries on the ocean, but nothing prepares you for swimming with sea life up close.
It’s like going on an underwater safari, yet unlike with a safari you don’t have to sit and wait for the animals, or track them down. You merely swim by them as though you’re in an underwater city and travelling down the main street amongst all the inhabitants.
The future of reefs around the world
The only problem with the joy scuba diving brings, is realising that the reef I’m swimming by might not be around for long.
I want my future children and grandchildren to enjoy sea life like I do, but I’ve seen a large amount of damaged reef in the short time I’ve been scuba diving to understand that the underwater world won’t stay pristine forever.
And the statistics prove my worst fears. More than 10% of natural coral reefs have been destroyed in my lifetime. Not only this, but scientists believe a permanent demise of 80% of our reefs might happen by 2050.
My hypothetical grandchildren will probably only just be being born by then.
In my home country of Australia, the government is considering dredging and dumping millions of tonnes of seabed and rock on the Great Barrier Reef, so that it can make way for shipping lanes. How a first world country can even consider this level of environmental damage for the sake of greed is beyond me.
A manmade reef built to protect nature
So when the Tourism Board of Cancun offered me and Dave the opportunity to go scuba diving at its Underwater Museum – a manmade reef structure – I was dubious at first. Has a sculptor just dropped his art into the seabed and is this further damaging the life that’s already there?
But as I researched I realised the artist – Jason DeCaires Taylor – actually created the sculptures to help sea life.
By putting sculptures into the sea, it encourages fish and coral to grow on them, essentially giving them a larger home.
The sculptures also help pull people away from natural coral gardens, towards the sculptures instead, having less of an impact on the natural environment.
Especially in Cancun, where tourism traffic is so high, thousands of scuba divers each year are damaging the once pristine diving areas.
Thanks to Taylor’s sculptures, some of this traffic is now be diverted into areas away from natural reefs.
Scuba diving at the Underwater Museum in Cancun
Unfortunately, on the day of the dive Dave was feeling a little under the weather and so I went on my own.
Because I’d researched a little beforehand, I had an image in my head of what the sculptures looked like and was slightly disappointed when we got in the water as they didn’t look like the pictures I’d seen online.
The statues, having been in the water now for nearly eight years, were covered in coral and it was difficult to make out their features.
But then I chided myself.
To have the sculptures overgrown with sea life was completely the purpose of the exhibition in the first place. Coral growing on these manmade objects was attracting fish and helping to revitalise an area previously destroyed by hurricanes and high human traffic.
And although we had torrential rain when we did the dive, we thankfully didn’t experience a hurricane, although the area was full of tourists.
I found the number of people in the area grating on my nerves. But once again I had to remind myself – this is also the point of the exhibition. By directing people to dive at the underwater museum and away from the ‘real’ reef helps keep the coral in its pristine shape.
But I guess I wasn’t ready for it. Speedboats thundered overhead and we saw other divers while we were down. The statues are in shallow water, with a maximum depth of around 8m-10m, and this meant loud surface noises were magnified through the crystal clear waters.
Although the sculptures themselves were interesting to look at – if not a little foreboding with their hunched postures and serious faces – the empty spaces in between didn’t have much marine life and was rather uninteresting to swim through.
And yet, once again, this is the point – having no natural reef around for humans to damage.
Take a look at the video at the top of the page to see what it was like.
It wasn’t the most interesting dive I’d ever done. The lack of marine life, aside from what was growing on the statues, meant it was almost a little dull.
Our guides from AquaWorld hadn’t explained much about the Underwater Museum ahead of the dive either, meaning that if I hadn’t of done my research it probably would have been even less interesting.
And then I had a thought – is this the way of the future? Are we damaging our Earth so much that our grandchildren will only have manmade objects to stare at? While I swim in the ocean and take nature for granted, is it going to be something that they’ll only be reading about in picture books?
A scary thought.
But in the meantime, I admire Taylor for his forward-thinking. Perhaps it is a good idea to create a place for people to enjoy a midway point between nature and manmade objects if it means less damage to true natural beauty.
I just hope there’ll still be natural beauty around in the future for those who respect it.
Thanks to the Tourism Board of Cancun and Aquaworld for hosting my dive. As always, my opinions are my own.
When to go: The two tank dive leaves daily at 8am, returning at 12pm. The one tank dive leaves daily at 11am, returning at 2pm.
How to get there: The dive boat leaves from Aquaworld, which is situated at Boulevard Kukulcan, at 15.3km in the hotel zone of Cancun.
Cost: I did the one tank dive of the Underwater Museum which costs US$65 normally. The two tank dive is US$70 and therefore better value. Read more about the dives on the Aquaworld website.
Other information: If you’d like to learn more about Jason DeCaires Taylor and his sculptures, travel bloggers Brett and Mary from Green Global Travel interviewed him on their website.
If you want to learn more about how you can save the reefs, please visit the Save Our Seas website.