Posted

December 19, 2019 07:21:51

Year 6 student Takoda Johnson is pretty chuffed to be the inspiration for a sculpture at the Townsville Strand, which is part of the Southern Hemisphere’s first Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA).

Key points:

  • The dive site of about 20 sculptures is submerged about 18 metres, rising up 9.5 metres and weighing
  • Stage two of the project includes the installation of sculptures off Palm Island
  • Discussions about a sculpture at Magnetic Island off Townsville are still underway

Stage one of the project is now complete, with the installation of a dive site featuring sculptures off the north Queensland coast.

The “coral greenhouse” features more than 20 marine sculptures made from stainless steel and marine-grade cement at John Brewer Reef.

Marine sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor said the submerged display took more than nine months to assemble.

“It’s submerged at around 18 metres deep, it rises up to nine-and-a-half metres high and it weighs over 160 tonnes,” he said.

“It’s comprised of a building that’s populated by about 20 sculptures and each of them are doing different activities in their underwater botanical space.

“Instead of having tomatoes and beans and different plants, we are actually going to substitute them for different marine organisms.

“We’re having corals, sponges, and obviously the resident fish population will move in pretty soon.”

The MOUA board said it anticipated the site would be open to tourists in April 2020.

The project’s first stage includes the “ocean siren”, a sculpture installed at the Townsville Strand earlier this month.

The inspiration and model for the sculpture is Year 6 student and Wulgurukaba descendant Takoda Johnson.

Takoda was chosen as the muse for the sculpture after her cousin put her name forward to the project organisers.

“It all happened at once,” she said.

“My family are happy and excited — my mum was really shocked about it and said how proud she was of me.”

For Takoda the process involved full-body scans and markings.

“They did the scan of my lower-half first and then my arm, which is up in the air on the piece,” she said.

“I’ll be here on holidays and will be able to see myself on the Strand.”

Future ‘guardians of the reef’

Mr deCaires Taylor said he felt it was important to include the younger generation in his sculptures for the project.

“The idea of casting the younger generation is that these [children] are going to be the guardians of the reef,” he said.

“They are going to take ownership, in some ways, of the environment.”

Lighting effects in the sculpture highlight the impact that climate change and rising sea temperatures have on coral reefs.

“This piece will change colour in response to the average reef temperatures that are out on the Great Barrier Reef,” Mr deCaires Taylor said.

“I hope people want to learn more about it. It’s not just a pretty light display — there is a strong message behind it.”

Sculptures planned near Palm Island

The project’s first phase was funded by the Queensland Government, and the MOUA board said it had secured Federal Government funding for stage two.

Stage two of the project will include the installation of sculptures off Palm Island, north-east of Townsville.

MOUA deputy chair Dr Adam Smith said community discussions for the installation were ongoing.

“Stage two has been involved in a lot of consultation at Palm Island over the last year, with meetings and site inspections and environmental assessments,” he said.

“We are hoping that we will have a decision on the preferred artwork — at the moment it is a choice of two.

“It is very much with the community — what the community wants and where the community wants it.

“It is a piece that showcases the link between Indigenous culture and the reef.”

”Amazing at night’

The MOUA board said discussions about a proposed sculpture at Magnetic Island off Townsville were still underway with no imminent plans.

It is hoped the underwater art will draw in more visitors to the north Queensland region.

“The one on The Strand is accessible to everyone and it’s amazing at night,” Dr Smith said.

“Coral Greenhouse has been installed over the last week and it has exceeded expectations.

“It’s at a beautiful, sheltered site at John Brewer Reef that will be accessible to snorkellers and scuba divers, and it’s near one of the best reefs, in my view, on the whole Great Barrier Reef.

“[There is] up to 85 per cent coral cover, diverse fish, so that tourists, scientists, and I hope a lot of the community from Townsville will plan to go out and see amazing underwater sculptures but also a healthy reef.”

He said there would be moorings in place and educational material.

“We imagine there will be an awful lot of interest,” he said.

“There will be a booking system that we are still working on to ensure it’s not overcrowded.”

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