Is Mexico’s Underwater Museum Diverting Attention from Bigger Environmental Issues?
The statues, the house, and the lobster are all part of the Underwater Museum of Art, a project intended to divert scuba divers from the overused reefs in the national park Costa Occidental Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancún y Punta Nizúc.
And though it’s not hurting the reef, they fear the museum may distract from more important threats to reef health such as coastal development and inadequate water treatment.
Closing the reefs would hurt business, so divers and park managers worked together to find a compromise.
In 2009, the diving community and the protected areas commission decided to create an underwater museum.
The museum provides a habitat for new coral colonies — coral polyps can attach to the hard surface of the statutes — but at the same time, fleshy algae has moved in to the noses, ears, and mouths of the statues.
Jaime Gonzalez Cano, former director of the national park where the museum is located and one of its founders, acknowledges the threat of water pollution, but says scientists underestimate the impact scuba divers have on the reef.
In comparison, the Costa Occidental Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancún y Punta Nizúc national park in Cancún covers about 33 square miles — less than 1 percent of the size of the Cairns planning area on the Great Barrier Reef — and receives about 750,000 people per year.
He isn’t the only one who thinks divers have a negative impact on coral reefs.
Part of the problem in Cancún is that managers of protected areas don’t have the power or resources to tackle the most important threats to the reef.
Gonzalez Cano said he didn’t have the power to change public policy regarding waste-water treatment.