If you’re visiting (or living) in the Mexican Caribbean, you’re bound to get wet. Exploring the Caribbean waters and subsurface features can be one of the most memorable parts of a trip to this region.
In 2009 a monumental underwater museum called MUSA (Museo Subacuatico de Arte) was formed in the waters surrounding Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Punta Nizuc (the southern “point” of the Cancun hotel zone). The project consists of over 500 permanent life-size sculptures, crafted by artists using special type of cement. Made in Puerto Morelos they were then dropped carefully to the ocean floor. It is today one of the largest and most ambitious underwater artificial art attractions in the world.
The Museum aims to demonstrate the interaction between art and environmental science, forming a complex reef structure for marine life to colonize, inhabit and increase biomass on a grand scale. Each of the sculptures is made from specialized materials used to promote coral life, with the total installations occupying an area of over 420sq meters of the barren seabed and weighing over 200 tons.
MUSA Cancun Marine Park
The Cancun Marine Park is one of the most visited stretches of water in the Americas, with over 750,000 visitors each year. The location of the sculptures promotes the recovery of the natural reefs as it relieves pressure by drawing visitors to alternate locations.
Today MUSA is divided into two galleries, one called Salon Manchones and another Salon Nizuc. 477 life-size sculptures are exhibited in the Manchones gallery and 23 in the Nizuc gallery. The Manchones collection is six to seven meters deep (18-20 feet) feet) and suitable for both divers and snorkelers. The Nizuc collection is three-four meters deep and only permitted for snorkeling. More than 150,000 visitors visited MUSA during 2019, out of 750,000 that visited the Government Protected Area.
The sites can be accessed by boat from Cancun and its marinas. There are daily snorkel tours, as well as eerie night dives. Glass bottom boats also take visitors into the Caribbean to see these formations from above.
The original structures where sunk as completely white sculptured forms, often depicting above-water daily life (like a guy on a couch eating a cheeseburger or a VW bug). There are also clusters of human figures, looking upward and bathed in natural light.
The transformation into coral-encrusted statues was remarkable. Coral began forming within weeks of the figures being placed by crane on the Caribbean seabed. By 2013, nearly all the figures had become speckled (and some fully encased in) living coral. Equally remarkable is how the desired effect of attracting fish and other sea critters is bringing visitors to these artificial (not natural) sites and thus allowing the area’s “loved to death” natural reefs the chance to recover.
MUSA offers hope for other damaged reef systems around the world. Having this attraction just off Cancun’s hotel zone makes this yet another wonder of the Mexican Caribbean.
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