France opens a new museum at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea

Six 9,000-kilogram mask sculptures have been sunk beneath the waves to create The Underwater Museum of Cannes

Cannes is now home to a new underwater museum featuring six giant stone sculptures by internationally renowned artist Jason deCaires Taylor. 
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Cannes's famous faces typically come from the resort town's annual international film festival, but this year there is a different type of face making the news in the French Riviera.

Six large stone faces, each of them weighing about 9,000 kilograms and rooted to the seabed off the island of Sainte-Marguerite.

The Underwater Museum of Cannes has opened in France after being designed by British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor.

The mask-style of the sculptures is a reference to the legend of the Man in the Iron Mask rather than the face masks of the global pandemic. Courtesy Jason deCaires Taylor

Thehe underwater exhibit was nearly four years in the making. Each of the works was inspired by the face of a local resident, with designs then supersized as the sculptures measure more than two metres in height.

The mask theme is a nod to the legend of the Man with the Iron Mask, who was supposedly imprisoned in this coastal region. They are not a reference to the face masks associated with the Covid-19 global pandemic.

It's hoped that these towering underwater sculptures will help draw public attention to the declining state of the Mediterranean Sea, which once thrived with marine life but now suffers from pressures of overtourism, overfishing and pollution.

The Underwater Museum of Cannes will encourage tourists to explore the submerged sculptures, which are free to visit. Simultaneously, it will act as a way to keep swimmers, snorkellers and divers away from the remaining natural coral reefs found in the region, giving them a chance to rebuild.

As well as bringing awareness to ocean conservation, the pH-neutral sculptures can attract a host of marine species including corals, sponges, hydroids and algae. Courtesy Jason deCaires Taylor

There's another important environmental role that the museum hopes to play.

The project aims to attract marine fauna and flora to find a new habitat on the surface of these underwater masks. To facilitate this, each of the stone faces has been constructed out of marine-safe pH-neutral cement.

From Mexico to the Maldives: underwater art around the world

The Mediterranean Sea is far from the only body of water that is in environmental trouble. More than 40 per cent of natural coral reefs globally have been lost in the past few decades.

Experts from the World Resources Institute expect that 90 per cent of coral reefs will be in danger by 2030, and all of them by 2050.

The sculptural park in France is Taylor's first project in the Mediterranean, but the artist has created hundreds of underwater sculptures around the world, each of them focussing on conservation.

Taylor has created hundreds of submerged, semi-submerged and terrestrial sculptures around the world including the Coralarium on the island of Sirru Fen Fushi, in the Maldives. Courtesy Jason deCaires Taylor

Some of his most famous projects include the Museo Subacuatico de Arte in Mexico, one of the largest underwater art attractions in the world; the Museo Atlantico, the first underwater art museum in the Atlantic Ocean and the Coralarium, situated in the clear waters of the Maldives.

Taylor's next project is set to be an underwater exhibit due to open in Cyprus later this year.