Underwater sculptures in Bali: unveiling the Ocean Galleries

The underwater sculptures around Bali are sending a strong message about sustainable ocean exploration and ecotourism; two concepts that thrill us to no end. Amed, Permuteran, Nusa Dua, Gili Meno and Lombok are just some of the locations where you can spot underwater sculptures while snorkelling or diving in Bali. For those of you who have seen these images in inflight magazines and felt intrigued, here is the story behind the aquatic exhibition.

The living sculptures are art with a purpose – they create new habitats for marine life, helping the recovery of the destroyed coral reefs, but are also works of art that attract diving and snorkelling ecotourism.

Coral Reefs are Rain Forests of the Ocean

Coral reefs are living animal colonies that provide nesting places for fish and other under water creatures. They are important elements of our oceans’ eco systems and if destroyed, the fish will look for housing elsewhere and reduce food and tourism for the locals.

Local communities in Bali are largely dependent on fishing and tourism that revolves around coral reefs. On top of that, just like in other places around the Coral Triangle, coral reefs in Bali have been significantly threatened by the impact of development, bombing, cyanide fishing, and pollution.

Lack of planning and effectively managing threats against coral reefs is an on-going challenge throughout the country. People on the island are becoming more and more aware of the importance of preserving the marine resources and ecotourism looks like a good place to start. Travellers looking to reduce their overall impact on the island should investigate environmentally responsible luxury villas & resorts.

Bombed Coral Head
This mass used to be a living coral before it was bombed to catch fish by the locals, photo by Mike Veitch

Many organisations and hotels have started to assist recovery of the coral reefs in their neighbourhood, by placing artificial reef structures in the sea to stabilize the rubble of damaged corals.

Living sculptures raise awareness and support media outreach

There are many such underwater sculptures around the world, in tropical areas like Mexico and Central America. They serve as nurseries for fish and regenerate their eco systems, but also act as interesting diving sites, giving support to local community by increasing tourist activities.

For more detailed information on underwater installations in Mexico, how they were made, and what they inspire in you, take a peak at this video below.

One of the organisations that has been building the living sculptures around Bali in the past five years is the Marine Foundation, a non profit from the UK. They work directly with environmentalists and the local communities, such as The Coral Alliance, Reef Check Indonesia, Gili Eco Trust and Karang Lestari Foundation.

The impact of the living sculptures on conservation efforts is already being recognized by stakeholders and the local community.

Most of all, the living sculptures “have good media outreach that helps spread awareness and facilitates our work” says Naneng Setiasih from Reef Check Indonesia.

Pemuteran Underwater Gallery

The western part of Bali has the oldest coral gardens, which consist of several sculptures: the Coral Goddess, Bicycles and Permuteran Animals. The Coral Goddess even received the UNDP award for sustainability in 2011. These sculptures are constructed with a unique invention bio-rock method using solar panel electricity to stimulate coral growth.

In this video, you can find the story of many years of successful work by the Karang Lestari Foundation, regenerating coral reefs with the Bio Rock method.

Sculpture of the bicycles which has well developed corals growing on it, located in Permuteran. Photo by Jeremy Ferris
Sculpture of the bicycles located in Permuteran, which have well developed coral growth. Photo by Jeremy Ferris.

To support the ecotourism, take a guided dive of the projects, leave a legacy of their name in the gardens by sponsoring a coral program or take a bio rock PADI specialty course.

This beautiful island hosts three living sculptures: Manta ray, Deus ex Machina and Tugu Dragon. Ecotourism helps support Gili Eco Trust by calling out to tourists to pay the eco tax, or if you want to make your trip more fun, take a photo riding on the Deus Motorbike underwater. Guided dives trough the coral gardens are also available upon request.

The Tugu Dragon is located in the ocean front of Tugu Hotel in Sire, Lombok. To visit the living sculpture and see the progress of growth of corals, you can take an energetic swim or a boat ride to the floating pontoon.

Amed, Jemeluk Bay Underwater Gallery

The area of Amed on the East of Bali has the most diverse underwater coral gallery, which includes an underwater post office, a mermaid sponsored by the Body Shop, Ganesha, Hanoman and a baby’s head. The first living sculpture installed in this space of the sea is a structure of mailbox, through which divers can send postcards in zipped plastic bags. The structure was created by Balinese artist, Wayan Winten, and was placed in 2011.

Sculpture of baby’s head located in Amed, sponsored by PATA foundation, by Eddie Prabandono
Sculpture of baby’s head located in Amed, sponsored by PATA foundation, by Eddie Prabandono

Two other smaller pieces – in the shape of Ganesha and Hanoman characters – were placed by the local community in a nearby spot early in 2013. A new statue in the shape of baby’s head was added to the Jemeluk Bay underwater gallery on 23th of May 2014. The sculpture was created by Eddie Prabandono as a part of his Luz Series sponsored by the Pacific Asia Travel Association. Amed is now in the process of sustainable development and getting more and more popular as a diving spot. The area has been declared a no fishing zone to assist in raising awareness of both the local community and the tourists.

For more visual material from the underwater sculptures around Bali, interesting photography and a short movie presentation about the procedure of installing the sculptures in Amed, take a look at this short film by The Marine Foundation: