West Africa’s first underwater museum draws attention to the environment


A hundred meters from the coast of Dakar, Senegal has eight sculptures rising from the bottom of the ocean, five meters below. The artwork is part of Oceanium, an offshore diving center and environmental organization in the West African nation’s capital.

Dutch and Italian artists Mischa Sanders and Philipp Putzer created the sculptures while training in Dakar.

VOA and other media were unable to visit the sculptures on a recently scheduled visit due to inclement weather.

The works were first shown at the Dakar art event which ended this week. The aim is to draw more attention to the pollution that surrounds the sculptures in hopes of creating discussion about the environment.

Charlotte Thomas is Oceanium’s communications manager. Thomas said: “You see, here in Senegal, pollution is everywhere. She added: “You go to Dakar and you see garbage all around you. And with the rainy season coming, it’s going to go into the sea. So if we don’t protect our land, we can’t protect our sea.”

In addition to Senegal’s heavy plastic pollution, development projects over the past decade have significantly altered the coastline and harmed the easily damaged environment. Fish stocks have declined significantly as commercial and local fishing boats continue to use unsustainable fishing methods.

In 2015, the government passed a law banning single-use plastic, but it was never enforced. Since then, other similar laws have been passed, but these have never come into force either.

A sculpture by artist Fabrice Monteiro at the Oceanium in Dakar, Senegal.  (Annika Hammerschlag/VOA <a class=News)” src=”https://gdb.voanews.com/10070000-0aff-0242-0733-08da52ff6777_w250_r0_s.jpg”/>

A sculpture by artist Fabrice Monteiro at the Oceanium in Dakar, Senegal. (Annika Hammerschlag/VOA News)

Senegalese Rodwan El Ali, Oceanium’s diving director, oversees the underwater art project. El Ali said in French: “I live under water, and I see that the regions that were so beautiful when I was young, today not only are there no more fish, but they have been replaced by plastic bottles, cans and all sorts of things. It’s painful for me.”

El Ali said he used to see large sea animals like dolphins, whales and sharks. He said he also caught fish his size. Now, he says, there is almost nothing left.

“We are in a country where the environment is not a priority.” He added: “Maybe [politicians] mention in speeches, but in reality they do nothing. No one is surveillance, nobody does anything. You can go to sea and do whatever you want and no one will stop you.

Since the sculptures were placed underwater in December, they have given rise to their own ecosystem. The sculptures are made of a material called clay. They are covered with marine life like barnacles, shells and sea urchins. Fish often visit to find shelter and feed on plants.

Organizers say they plan to bring in local artists to create new sculptures that will be added to the rooms over time.

I am Gregory Stachel.

Annika Hammerschlag reported this story for Voice of America. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.


words in this story

sculpture – nm a work of art that is made by sculpting or molding clay, stone or metal

sustainable – adj. involving methods that do not completely deplete or destroy natural resources

priority – nm something that is more important than other things and needs to be done or dealt with first

mention – v. speak, write or refer to (something or someone) especially briefly

monitor – v. to watch, observe, listen to or verify (something) for a particular purpose for a period of time

ecosystem – nm everything that exists in a particular environment

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