My experience, Jason deCaires Taylor & Ocean Quest

Jason deCaires Taylor sculpture at temporary exhibit, Port Canto in Cannes

This week’s blogpost is something a bit different. It does not pertain to plastic pollution per se, but rather, is an account of my personal experience. 
I will talk about my journey as an activist, working with world-renowned artist Jason deCaires Taylor, and finally the pioneering coral propagation by  Ocean Quest & the Thai National Park rangers at Maya Bay. 

When choosing the path of environmental protection, it’s necessary to find a balance between care for the collective and care for the self. It is overwhelming to take on such big, time-sensitive issues as plastic pollution. It is too much pressure for one person to carry on their shoulders. Feeling responsible for every piece of plastic, and trying to change the whole world’s consumption behaviour, will surely lead to burnout. 

Feeling overwhelmed & burnt out on Koh Phi Phi in 2018

In my experience, spending every waking moment as an advocate for plastic awareness not only led me to feel burnt out, but also created problems in my personal life. I was restricting myself and others around me. My close friends and family were the subject of my judgment when they didn’t meet my high, plastic-free, standards. This is not a helpful way to tackle environmental issues as the people around me are not the ones producing the non-recyclable plastic or even creating the most waste! Its necessary to find the most effective forms of activism and, as I discovered, pestering loved ones isn’t the way to go. 

My niece, the next generation, my motivation

Although I’m sure I’ve had a positive impact by sharing knowledge with the people around me, it’s not the best approach to creating widespread change. It’s never a good idea to be judgmental, as every individual is on their own path of understanding, and on their own timeline when it comes to environmental awareness.  

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.

Today I am wise, so I am changing myself – Rumi

The best way for me to change the world is to change myself. So, leading by example has been my modus operandi. But, what’s the point of preserving life if the life you lead is an unhappy one? I need to take the time to pursue what makes me happy as well as what gives me purpose. My crusade against ocean-killing plastic and preserving a healthy environment for future generations to enjoy, is my purpose, sure. Sharing my light with the world and being a positive presence in the lives of the people around me is what brings me joy and makes me happy.

I can’t be a positive influence on people if I’m burnt out, stressed and miserable. So, I’ve come to realise that’s it’s okay to take a break, it’s important to practice self-care and the pursuit of happiness is also a worthy one. 

Pursuing happiness

So, instead of talking about plastic this week, let me tell you about a wonderful encounter I had with an artist who’s work I admire: Jason deCaires Taylor. I’m allowing myself the indulgence of writing about him here as his art does have a strong environmental message. 

I was lucky enough to meet him and assist with the preparation of six new statues. The sculptures are the faces of local people from Cannes, France. They will will deployed in the bay of Cannes, underwater, to create an artificial habitat for marine life. The area where the sculptures will reside will also be prohibited to boats, one of the main causes of wildlife destruction in the Mediterranean. 

One of the six sculptures to be submerged in the bay of Cannes 2020

Jason’s sculptures of human beings are submerged in the ocean at many locations around the world. They force the observer to look under the surface of the water. 

In marine conservation, one of the most frustrating realities is that, unlike a forest which looks bare when it’s been deforested, the ocean’s surface always looks calm and strong, no matter how much devastation is happening underneath. 

        What the forest looks like after destruction vs what the ocean looks like after destruction 

This theme is recreated in the 2m tall faces Jason has sculpted for Cannes. Each one is split, a duality that represents our seemingly strong exterior, and the fragility that exists beneath the surface. 

On one side, strength, on the other fragility 2020

This is why Jason’s work is so powerful: by creating underwater museums, he is encouraging us to really see the underwater world. As the sculptures age, marine life takes over, covering the concrete bodies with coral, algae, and sponges. The inert becomes living. 

Outdoor temporary museum at Port Canto in Cannes

Thus, he challenges us to reflect on our relationship with the natural world. To remember that we are a part of it. To encourage us to not stand by and allow it to be destroyed. 

Outdoor temporary museum at Port Canto in Cannes 2020
The sculptures will be put in the water off the island of Sainte Marguerite at the end of November. I will be helping with the process, so watch this space! There are lots of beautiful underwater images to look forward to. 

Helping out Jason deCaires Taylor, Cannes 2020
In the meantime, check out Jason’s insta for updates on his past, present, & upcoming projects. 
Some food for thought: the race to create underwater museums worldwide is a contentious one. Although Jason’s sculptures are made with “ocean-safe” concrete, and have an environmental message, should we really be filling up one of the only near-wild spaces left on this planet with more man-made objects? 
This brings me to the final part of this post: Ocean Quest 
I also had the pleasure in the past of working with Anuar Abdullah from Ocean Quest. Anuar has developed a pioneering coral propagation technique which uses zero manmade structures. In most places, conservationists propagate coral using metal, concrete or even plastic structures. The pieces of coral are attached using plastic cable ties. Seems counter-productive, right? Creating more ocean litter in the aim of saving the ocean, really

Anuar of Ocean Quest briefing the Thai National Park Rangers, Maya Bay 2018 
This is why Anuar’s use of natural substrate (rocks and dead coral) and low-impact gluing techniques is revolutionary and exciting for the future of coral nurseries. He invented a ‘catalyst’, a calcium/magnesium composite, which helps attach the corals to rocks, allowing them to regrow in disturbed habitats without the use of concrete, metal or plastic. 

A piece of coral attached to a rock, ready to be planted back in the ocean, Maya Bay 2018


His technique is so effective that he was bestowed with the huge project of rehabilitating Maya Bay in Thailand. This bay is famous for featuring in the cult classic film The Beach starring Leonardo Di Caprio. Unfortunately, fame led to the bay’s ecosystem being completely destroyed by tourism. Over 300 speedboats/day, trampled coral, sunscreen and urine, trash, etc., left the bay devoid of the once bountiful wildlife. In an act that was the first of its kind, the Thai government took the bold and wise decision to close Maya Bay in 2018, to allow for its rewilding. 
Swimming out substrate with attached corals to be planted back in Maya Bay, 2018
Since 2018, when I was first introduced to Anuar’s technique, he has made even more improvements and is now working on a glue which can be used underwater. This will allow Ocean Quest conservationists to attach coral in situ, with even less disturbance caused to the coral. If you’re interested in coral propagation, I recommend you follow Ocean Quest as they have active projects all over the world. 

Thanks for reading, stay tuned for more ocean conservation discussions 😉 

Nina x 


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