The statues create the ideal conditions for marine organisms to attach, providing the right environment to develop and create a rich artificial reef
By Klelia Vasiliou
I have always had a special admiration for the ability of man to think, to create, to compose in perfect harmony with nature. Many professions, even politics, must take inspiration from nature and its functions in order to achieve Aristotle’s “Whole Man”.
Nature observation has always been the natural resource for every historical cultural creation: from the genius of Michelangelo imprinted in his sculptural skill making the marble cobweb in Pieta, to Van Gogh’s “Irises”, or even the Parthenon itself.
On Saturday night I had the great pleasure to attend an event that reminded me of the above: the opening of the first underwater art forest of the Mediterranean, MUSAN. It’s a truly great milestone for the cultural, tourist and environmental plans of our country, giving me many reasons to feel proud both as environment commissioner and as a Cypriot. It came about in record time, the idea was born in 2017 and if the pandemic had not intervened, the inauguration would have taken place 1.5 years ago.
Congratulations to the team that worked on the project for so many reasons: teamwork, ingenuity, originality, collaboration and solidarity characterised the design and implementation. It could not be otherwise, of course, since the name of Jason deCaires Taylor has a worldwide reputation as a great artist from Australia and Mexico to France and India
In the short time I had the opportunity to talk to him before the inauguration, I asked about the difficulties he faced and the huge challenge of creating and sinking 93 amazing works on the seabed of Ayia Napa without leaving the slightest insult to a particular and protected ecosystem.
From what I understood, he left nothing to chance. Its composition included non-toxic materials at neutral PH that over time will not only not create a problem in the ecosystem but will work to improve the restoration of the biodiversity of the seabed. The slits, the edges, the space create the ideal conditions for marine organisms to attach, giving them the right environment to develop and create a rich artificial reef that will create life.
For each of his works, DeCaires Taylor calculates the peculiarities of the seabed, its geography, temperature and microclimate but also the location by selecting points at a distance from natural reefs so as not to affect the natural elements. Controlling the artificial intervention also ensures that microorganisms are dispersed correctly.
The artist started as a diving instructor and sculpture student. A man with obvious concerns about the issues of climate crisis and the destruction of marine biodiversity, he decided to act through his talents. And the most impressive thing is that he considers his works as a beautiful way of intervention that creates life. We agreed that the goal of all of us should be to protect existing reefs, protecting them from all types of pollution and, secondarily, to create artificial ones.
Our maritime wealth, as absolutely essential for us as the air we breathe, is being hit hard worldwide and especially in the Mediterranean. The latest available data record huge amounts of waste, 229 tonnes per year or 550 shipping containers per day that end up in our seas. We must act and we must act immediately.
Both the European Commission through the Green Deal and the Strategy for the Sea and Fisheries have created conditions of containment but these will not be easy because we have created a huge plague on the planet, with our excesses: overconsumption, overfishing, overloading and dredging all create very difficult conditions.
The project that was inaugurated on Saturday achieves multiple goals. Cyprus is now on the world diving map challenging and inviting divers from all over the world to visit this unique Mediterranean submarine museum, emphasising its environmental value and educating Cypriots and foreigners about the need to protect the seabed and the absolute need to restore biodiversity.
For me personally, my goal is now to get a diving diploma! I hope that very soon I will be able to tour our underwater forest. I must experience this work that represents everything I reverently support: the coexistence of human activity and environmental protection and support. These will bring economic benefits both in terms of ecosystem services and the local economy.
Striving for that first visit, however, I must stress the need for prudence. Ayia Napa municipality has provided for visits to be made by arrangement. My wish is that like any visit to a forest, either on the land or at sea, we show the respect required by sensitive ecosystems. We can admire fish, corals, plants, flowers, birds but at a safe distance which protects the species.
Klelia Vasiliou is Cyprus’ environment commissioner