Starting next year, Miami Beach visitors looking for their next art pilgrimage will be heading to the ocean floor.
ReefLine, an underwater public sculpture park that is designed to serve as a vibrant artificial reef, will open its first permanent installations in December 2021. Though only the first mile will be completed by that time, eventually, the public art project will run seven miles long, echoing the experience of traveling Manhattan’s High Line, but with snorkel fins.
The idea came about when the project’s founder and art director, Ximena Caminos of BlueLab Preservation Society, learned that artificial reefs could be deposited in the waters of South Beach to aid in replenishing its coral population.
“I thought, ‘What if we created a reef designed by artists?’” said Caminos over email. “I’ve always been interested in how we can combine art and science to address issues of sustainability.”
The park will welcome curious humans and provide a habitat for reef organisms, which are in danger of extinction if the world’s coral ecosystems continue to die out. Coral reef colonies promote biodiversity, and about a quarter of the ocean’s fish depend on them to survive, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). In recent years, South Florida’s coral has been killed off at unprecedented rates by disease and bleaching, widely attributed to warming waters – and it’s not a local problem, but a global one. Alarmingly, a recent study found that the largest coral reef system in the world, the Great Barrier Reef, has lost 50% of its coral life in the past three decades.
The team behind the ReefLine hopes to mitigate some of the damage to Florida’s coastline by offering a new home for new organisms to flourish. The structure will consist of concrete, modular units, with site-specific art installations peppering its length from South Beach to the north. It is being designed by Shohei Shigematsu of the architecture firm OMA, along with a team of marine biologists, researchers and coastal engineers.
“The team has to be cross-disciplinary,” said Caminos. “Artists, architects, scientists, preservationists and city officials are coming together to create this underwater sculpture garden that will form the artificial reef, helping to foster the regrowth of the area’s destroyed coral and enhance coastal resilience.”
Art to save the oceans
In recent years, the art and design worlds have brought attention to the critical future that coral reefs face. In 2019, Pantone named Living Coral its color of the year, warning that the lively hue is disappearing from the ocean’s floors, as rising water temperatures have increasingly bleached the colonies white.
That same year, conservationist and underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor unveiled a responsive public sculpture, “Ocean Siren” off the coast of Queensland, Australia, that changes color as ocean water temperatures fluctuate.
“Ocean Siren” was the first work of art to be included in Australia’s Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA), in Townsville. Now, the ReefLine joins MOUA as well as underwater art museums in Cancun and Florida as the newest undersea art attraction.
Along the ReefLine, the first artists to debut their works will be Shigematsu, who is designing an installation in addition to the park’s layout, and Argentinian conceptual artist Leandro Erlich. Erlich will create an underwater version of a work that debuted during Miami Art Week last year: an enormous sand sculpture of a 66-car traffic jam that deteriorated with time. Shigematsu, meanwhile, will create a concrete spiral stair structure that provides surface area for coral to flourish and a central open area where exploring humans can swim in the middle of the architectural feat.
In the project’s next stage, installations by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto and Argentinian artist Agustina Woodgate will be revealed.
As for the other artists who will exhibit on the sea floor, Caminos said that ReefLine is seeking to work with people whose art “relates and responds to the environment and raises awareness about the urgent issues facing our planet.”
Overall, she hopes that visitors who swim along the ReefLine will find the experience to be magical. “(It’s) a totally different way of experiencing art,” she said. “The water will also provide a change in perspective and gravity. Architects and designers are very excited by those opportunities that shift perspectives.”