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Sculpture and Coral Reefs: Combining Art, Research, Tourism and Education
  • Colleen Flanigan,
  • D.L. Marrin
Colleen Flanigan
Living Sea Sculpture

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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D.L. Marrin
Water Sciences & Insights
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Whereas scientific explanations have expanded our understanding of nature, they are often inappropriate for communicating the relevance of science to a lay audience. The arts avert these intellectual hurdles in permitting people to appreciate nature, while also informing scientific endeavors. This project combines the art of sculpture with the technology of electro mineral accretion (EMA) and the science of coral reef restoration. A DNA-inspired sculpture permits the transmission of a minimal DC current that extracts minerals from seawater and deposits them on the steel surface, thus creating a habitat for transplanted corals or settling larvae. Live streaming video (via a webcam) of these processes and related ocean data is sent out worldwide from this underwater art installation in Cozumel, Mexico. Snorkelers can visit the developing reef and students can participate in planting corals or monitoring conditions in the surrounding seawater. Divers and dive instructors have shown an interest in the project, which focuses on generating, rather than exploiting, reefs and welcomes curious locals and tourists. Mineral accretion reefs can adopt a range of shapes, sizes and arrangements on the ocean floor, thus facilitating an evaluation of how different designs influence the coral recruitment, growth, and survival, as well as how the evolving ecosystem protects shorelines and mitigates sea level rise. Research indicates that neighboring reefs are interconnected in many ways (as a network), contributing to their resilience. This sculpture serves as an artificial reef patch among the damaged natural reefs and could eventually contribute larvae from selected species. It is also an example of integrative emergence inasmuch as it substitutes for the natural growth of a reef’s substrate. In uniting wildlife preservation, marine science/education and ecotourism, the project exemplifies the nexus of functional art and environmental solutions.