Barge Sinks, Ruins $500,000 Rapa Nui Artificial Reef (Video)

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For months, hype has been building about a set of 15 giant sculptures that were built and designed to be sunk yesterday off the coast of Deerfield Beach, making an artificial reef for scuba divers to explore. These pieces were eight to 22 feet tall and designed as replicas of the mysterious heads at Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui. But things took a bizarre turn when the barge carrying the sculptures tipped over and sunk on top of them, crushing them all.

The project was conceived and funded by Margaret Blume, described as a Boca Raton philanthropist, who spent $500,000 from her family trust to make it a reality. On the project website, rapanuireef.com, she explained that she was inspired when she saw a photo of an underwater sculpture in Mexico, and her husband and son helped think of the Easter Island idea. 

In April, sculptor Dennis MacDonald of Pompano Beach explained on video how the 600,000 pounds of concrete would be sunk a mile offshore in 75 feet of water. 

Apparently, the statues were attached to the flat barge, which was a platform for them. The barge was supposed to be sunk with the statues. MacDonald said on the project website that he used all reclaimed materials and that the  barge had a layer of concrete on it — a  "wear deck" — six inches thick. The project, he said. "will put Deerfield Beach on the map" and create "a diving experience that should last forever."

Also in April a retired Deerfield Beach firefighter and dive enthusiast known as Jim "Chiefy" Mathie discussed the project, explaining that Broward County was the permit holder and that Deerfield Beach dive shop Dixie Divers was also leading the project. He uttered some now-ominous words when asked how long it would take after the June 7 sinking for divers to be allowed near the site. He said project leaders would "make sure everything's safe and it sank according to plan, which we hope is upright as you see now, but in 70 feet of water..."

Observers had assembled in boats, on surfboards, and at the Deerfield Beach pier to watch the sinking. This footage, apparently taken via drone, shows the barge—  150 feet long by 45 feet wide — tipping and sinking almost instantly: 

After the sinking, Arilton Pavan of Dixie Divers told assembled reporters in broken English that it was supposed to be "a controlled sink, that's mean a small amount of water going in, and slowly taking place. You want to see the deck under water. As soon as the deck be under water complete, is no mpre flip... I think the tow boat tried to help, the big tow boat, but he make so much wave toward one side, took more water than supposed to one side... I didn't advise to do that. The idea was to keep water coming even even even. Was really good actually, but started to make waves, took too much water to one side, and started flipping, and that was not good at that point...  It was a great project... We knew some risk was involved, but— it's there."  

Easter Island is one of the world's most remote locations, more than 3,000 miles from the Chilean mainland. Giant statues there, called moai, were carved circa 1100 A.D. and how ancient people moved them from a quarry to other parts of the island is one of the world's most enduring mysteries.  Some people theorized that the sinking of the barge was a curse for people having appropriated these sacred indigenous images:

In online forums, divers theorized about why it flipped: that it was top-heavy and not ballasted properly. Some said that it would still make a cool dive site. On the Rapa Nui Reef's Facebook page, some hoped the barge could be righted and some sculptures saved.

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