Scientists predict that in 50 years we’ll have lost almost 70% of our natural reefs. “Which is quite a heavy statistic,” says environmentally inspired artist, Jason deCaires Taylor. He is the focus of a documentary named, Angel Azul, exploring the weaving of art with an important environmental solution; the creation of artificial coral reefs.
You may be asking yourself why coral reefs are important to humans. The fact is that they’re important for several reasons. The first is that they provide us with resources and services worth many billions of dollars each year; namely through food, protection and jobs. Coral reef ecosystems support commercial and recreational fisheries and are tourism-related destinations that inject billions of dollars to local economies. Furthermore, healthy coral reefs are a natural shoreline buffer helping to protect us from waves, storms and floods. Lastly, coral reef plants and animals are important sources of new medicines being developed to treat cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, heart disease, viruses and other diseases.
"As humans continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the climate is … on the threshold of a new regime, with dire consequences for reef ecosystems unless we get control of climate change," said Richard Aronson, a biology professor at Florida Institute of Technology. He continues to add, "Local issues like pollution and overfishing are major destructive forces and they need to be stopped, but they are trumped by climate change, which right now is the greatest threat to coral reefs."
Taylor founded the Museo Subacuatico de Arte (MUSA) in Cancun, Mexico, installing 400 life-like cement statues made from plaster molds of a diverse selection of human models. The documentary is named for a sculpture of an angel with outstretched arms and Gorgonian coral wings that gently flutter with the tide. The hope is that the Angel Azul will symbolize a guardian of the reef, protecting and nourishing the aquatic life around her. This kinetic sculpture is the first to be installed underwater.
Angel Azul the movie also features Paul Sánchez-Navarro, Director of The Ecological Center in Akumal, Mexico explaining the fragile state of the Yucatán's coral reefs and proposing solutions for their survival. The documentary’s narration is provided by actor, writer and social activist, Peter Coyote.
“Obviously this type of work is quite different from normal art projects. Because the main objective of it is about conservation; making an artificial reef, increasing the biomass underwater, creating habitat areas, aggregating fish” says Taylor.
Coral reefs are resilient. They can recover and re-grow, but only if climate change can be mitigated or reversed. We need to examine our lifestyles and find ways to reduce energy use. It will help our wallets and the environment.