World’s first semi-submerged museum debuts in the Maldives

The Maldives has long been associated with ambitious underwater ventures.

Earlier this summer, the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island announced plans to build what’s said to be the world’s first undersea residence that’s partially submerged underwater.

And now there’s another reason to take a dip: the world’s first semi-submerged museum.

Located in the Shaviyani Atoll, the underwater sculpture park and marine sanctuary — dubbed the Coralarium — is a collaboration between the Fairmont Maldives Sirru Fen Fushi and British artist and environmental activist Jason deCaires Taylor.

“The Coralarium is a place of preservation, conservation and education. Together with the resort, we hope to raise awareness for the protection of Maldivian coral reefs,” said Taylor said in a statement.

“I want to see a better future for the ocean, for people to see it as a delicate place, worthy of our protection.”

Underwater worlds

Home to roughly 30 sculptures — all of which are casts of real people — the semi-submerged park is located inside a lagoon, about 50 meters from the resort’s beach.

On approach, a corridor of underwater poplar tree sculptures and a stainless steel stairwell comes into sight, leading visitors into an enormous cube-like art gallery.

Scattered across three levels, the Avatar-esque sculptures appear to be hybrids between humans and nature.

For example, many sport roots for legs, said to be inspired by the islands’ native species of mushrooms and banyan trees.

In the zone

Thanks to the installation’s location in an intertidal zone — essentially the area beyond the shore that’s exposed at low tide and submerged during high tide — the cube and many of the sculptures spend a portion of every day above water.

That means snorkelers, divers and even pedestrians strolling on the beach can all enjoy the artwork.

At this time, travelers may visit the park on a guided tour with the hotel’s resident marine biologist.

A marine sanctuary

Taylor, who is also behind the world’s first underwater sculpture park — the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park, which opened in 2006 off the coast of Grenada, in the Caribbean — designed the Maldivian sculptures for sea creatures as much as humans.

To ensure his work would provide a home for marine life, Taylor crafted the 200-ton gallery structure from pH neutral marine-grade stainless-steel, while the sculptures are made of marine-grade cement.

Over time, algae should cover the cement and claim the gallery as part of the underwater realm.

Around the gallery, the hotel has also embarked on coral regeneration projects to cultivate more marine life near the art.

“Over the years I have realized that the really humbling thing about what we do is that once we submerge the sculptures they’re not ours anymore,” said Taylor.

“As soon as we sink them, they belong to the sea and nature takes over.”