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Exploring Grenada's underwater sculpture park

Grenada’s underwater sculpture park provides one of the world’s most unique sub-aquatic experiences.

An eerie ring of statues in  the underwater park.

Photograph by Orlando K. Romain
By Connor McGovern
Published 20 May 2022, 11:30 BST

It’s not often you can look down on Jesus Christ, but in the cool waters of Grenada, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Standing on the seabed, his face obscured by the ocean haze, the Saviour is gazing up at me, his arms thrust to the surface, forever drowning. 

But really, he couldn’t be more alive. All along his arms and robes, tiny corals have bloomed. Reeds and algae have claimed him, too, their green fronds billowing in the gentle currents, silver shoals of anchovies zigzagging back and forth. The sea has jolted this stolid statue into life. Some might call it a resurrection. 

It’s one of the highlights of Grenada’s Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park, located in the Molinere-Beauséjour Marine Reserve, off the island’s west coast. I’ve no better guide to show me these subaqua statues than Chris, from dive and snorkel company ScubaTech. Having grown up on the island, he knows these waters as well as any anchovy, and leads me from statue to statue with such instinct it’s as though he can see them all those metres below. “It’s just special, I never get tired of coming out to sea,” he says as we bob on the surface, water sparkling in the sun. “I’ve dived everywhere. Caribbean, America, Norway.” He shivers. “Norway was way too cold. I need the sun, man.”

The area also has a proliferation of beautiful coral species.

Photograph by Jason Taylor

Created in 2006 after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ivan two years previously, the sculpture park was the first such park by British ‘eco-artist’ Jason de Caires Taylor, who wanted to use contemporary sculptures for corals to cling to and regrow. There are now 75 life-giving works from several artists dotted about the 8,600sq ft site, most of them made of pH-neutral cement to minimise the impact on the water. But for all the positive impact they’ve had promoting life off Grenada’s shores, there’s an eerie, ghostly quality to the statues in the way they slowly fade in and out of view like apparitions. We swim past a table with a bowl of fruit — positioned as if ready to be picked and eaten — and pass The Lost Correspondent, a journalist at his typewriter, eternally tethered to the floor. (“Remote working, huh?” Chris says wryly.) Perhaps most haunting of all, however, is Vicissitudes: a ring of life-like children, hand in hand, looking out from the circle, their eyes closed — a representation of unity in adversity, perhaps.

“Look down there,” says Chris, fixing his snorkel and dipping below the surface. He points to the seabed where I can make out the figure of a reclining mermaid, tail flicked, hair flowing. “My ex-girlfriend,” he laughs later, gold tooth glinting in the sun. 

Aerial view of Molinere Bay, home of the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park.
 

Photograph by Alamy

Leaving the broken-hearted siren behind, we glide on, refracted sunbeams dancing in the blue beneath us. I follow Chris’s lead, interpreting his pointing and beckoning — there are only hand and eyebrow signals underwater, after all — as we glimpse a busy wonderland of marine life. There are groupers and lobsters, and pearlescent baby cuttlefish shimmying through the water. Shoals of striped sergeant majors patrol the reefs, neon-hued tangs and angelfish darting between them like commuters hurrying for a train. I almost miss the spiky sea urchin perilously close to my ankle, so distracted am I by the yellow boxfish swimming in front of me: a spotted little thing so cube-shaped it looks like a Picasso painting brought to life. 

Suddenly Chris waves at me, pointing to something below: a lionfish, a cream-and-maroon-striped beauty with long, venomous spines fanning from its body like the frills of an extravagant duchess. But these flamboyant fish are far from welcome. 

“Lionfish are invasive, we don’t want them here,” says Chris, once we surface. “They just get everywhere.” It’s unclear how, exactly, the species arrived in the Caribbean from their native Indo-Pacific waters but, with very few predators, a long breeding season and voracious appetites, they’re having a detrimental effect on the ecosystem’s food chain. There’s hope, however: along with many other countries in the region, Grenada is making concerted efforts to halt the lionfish’s spread through organised hunts, including those funded by the Global Environment Facility. And what does one do with a lionfish? “Take off all the spines, cut it into strips and fry it,” says Chris. 

“It’s pretty tasty.”

As we clamber back onto the boat, I look up at the island ahead, rising from the cobalt sea in crumpled green peaks. Sugar-white houses cluster around bays and dot the leafy slopes. Forged by volcanoes, Grenada is dramatic to look at, but there’s just as much drama beneath the waves, too. 

Beside me, Chris slides along the seat and into the sunlight. Rays fall on his face. “Sorry,” he says. “Was just getting cold.”  

Published in the Islands Collection by National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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