Bio-reef art & underwater museums educate on climate change

It’s not every day that someone catches the sights while snorkeling through a man-made bio-reef that is aiming to rebuild local coral life and create a stronger marine habitat.  But this is what happened to me a few weeks ago visiting Pemuteran Bay Biorock in Bali, Indonesia. This may sounds like another new tourism expansion, but I believe it gets at something bigger around bringing the climate change conversation to a broader audience, and doing so with compelling experiences.

While it sounds like a fun experience (and indeed, snorkeling through the reef is not bad) is also starts from a true world problem. Coral reefs are in crisis. More than 50% of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has decline and may be dead, and it may never recover, according to the World Economic Forum.

The sounds of a coral reef, published on BBC News on May 1 2018, also shows this decline in coral life with an audio recording. It brings you into the sensorial world of the reef, changing from a crackling cacophony to a  reduced white-noise buzz. The causes and the potential consequences affect everyone, whether tied to local fishing practices and pollution, or to global climate change.

Museums & tourism for reef restoration

Reef restoration and coral transplanting through projects like Bio-Rock, are some of the potential strategies to start to address the impact. But maybe more importantly, it also a very compelling way to help people, the public, realise the impact. And thats what makes it so interesting for the museum sector.

  • It shows different strategies used to educate people around globally relevant thematic issues : diversity, climate change, migration, and so forth.
  • It shows how cultural organisations, parks, and museums can also can expand into new areas using the power of a strong experience to help drive education.

Example 1 – Bio-Rock

In Pemuteran more than 60 “Bio-Rock” nursery structures have been installed since 2000 in the village, over a discovery length of 300 meters. It is the largest projects worldwide of its size, initiated by the Bio-Rock Information Center . Snorkelers and divers can guide themselves through “bio-rock”  reef gardens filled with statues and art works. Visitors can customise their experience and adopt a coral structure. According to the Bio-Rock center, the size of this project exceeds the combined sizes of all other bio-reef projects in the Pacific, Caribbean, and Indian Ocean.

Example 2 – Under-water art worlds

Another example are the art works by Jason DeCaires Taylor, bringing the world’s first underwater museum. The museum that seeks to educate on natural conservation and environmental activism topic. DeCaires Taylor also comments on his website, these underwater sculpture gardens are museums like any other:

“We call it a museum for a very important reason. Museums are places of preservation, conservation and education. They’re places where we keep objects of great value to us, where we value them simply for being themselves.”
deCaires Taylor, Ted Talk



This seems to have gathered success and momentum, with the latest example of the Underwater Art Museum in Florida inaugurated in June 2018 bringing a similar approach of under-water collections. Sure, some of it is the gimmick appeal for a new tourism experience. But it is also an experience that is built on an educational message.

What can we learn for the museum sector?

  • Superb awareness and educational options to draw attention to climate and water issues, both for touristsm, museums visitors, and for local stakeholders.
  • Category rejuvenation for museums and parks – By expanding the creative commons into this new field, museums can push their relevance further into new physical spaces, beyond the museums white walls.
  • Create real actions – it’s not just a marketing or PR stunt. Rather, it is providing a true immediate solution to work on local education around destruction of coral, and towards more sustainable tourism.

How do we move beyond today’s museum curation to make this something that the public can contribute to, and where the museum really has an influencing voice? This is, after-all, the role of the museum : the task of the museum is to inform on change and bring knowledge, actions, and debates on climate change to the public (Wire). 

Putting it in practice

To this end it  makes me wonder about how a museum can bring new global themes to life, not only to educate but also to collaborate for action.  I am thinking back to a 2017 exhibition at the MEG, Geneva which featured an engaging display of a sea-turtle built from nets and drawing attention to the very real problem of ghost-nets in Australia (at the time accompanying an exhibition on the Oceania collection, now part of the reference collection). As I watch the audience in the museum I am struck by how this always connects with visitors – a modern creation, within the setting of the collection, drawing attention to true thematic problem. I have watched it being photographed, regrammed, posted, tagged, and shared by countless people.


How can museums take this to the next step?
An exhibit shouldn’t just discuss climate change on the side, it should take steps to make a difference.

  1. Create and encourage actions: Even from the limits of our urban and land-locked environment, we could do a little bit more to create action. The exhibition could support a Bio-rock project, or a ghost-net removal. Little actions with big impact.
  2. Have a sustainable viewpoint beyond the exhibition: We can have a clear curation and view-point on these issues that are always on – not just during the specific exhibition, but as an ongoing conversation. Once the exhibit is over, the problem doesn’t go away.


Cover Image Credit: WEF