As flops go, this one was spectacular: Last year, rich philanthropist Margaret Blume spent many months and $500,000 getting a sculptor to create statues that looked like the famous moai — giant stone heads —- found on Easter Island. To make an artificial reef, she and her team affixed the statues — 600,000 pounds of concrete — to a flat barge. On June 7, they intended to sink it to the ocean floor and invited the public to come out and watch as the ship went down.
But instead of gently falling into the depths, the barge flipped over entirely, landing upside down on the ocean floor — on top of the statues.
After the sinking, Arilton Pavan, owner of Deerfield Beach dive shop Dixie Divers, who helped plan the project, told assembled reporters that it was supposed to have been "a controlled sink" but that a wave from a passing towboat had made one side go down faster than the other, causing the flip. In the following days, the team brushed off the mishap, saying it would begin anew. It said it would even try to raise money.
"This is not the end of the story," Blume insisted.
A year later, the project website is defunct, but Pavan has taken it upon himself to recruit experienced divers to improve the site.
"We're relocating the statues from underneath the barge and slowly moving them to the top," he explained via phone. To move the heavy pieces, they use lift bags — empty bags that they place under the statue, then inflate using air from a tank. "It's like a big pillow, a heavy-duty pillow," Pavan says. Once resting on these bags, he says, the statues can be moved as though they are completely weightless.
Ultimately, he says, the statues will be affixed and steadied with brackets. "The barge is sinking in the sand," though, he says. "There's no way we can move the barge."
His divers have so far also marked the dive site and made a trail to the Deerfield Beach Mountain — a nearby artificial reef made up of piles of giant limestone boulders that the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission funded a few months after the Rapa Nui mishap.
Pavan says he's been accomplishing his task with teams of experienced volunteer divers who have been going out about once a week. Since the statues are 70 feet under water, they have only 50 minutes underwater each trip and must be very efficient. To fund the effort, he provides equipment, and his guests pay a discounted rate for the dive trip — $40 instead of the usual $60. Then usually do two dives on each outing — one to work on the site and another for fun.
He said Blume is aware of what he's doing but "waiting" to get involved again. "I think the team lost the momentum — they talked about [a new Rapa Nui project] but never put it together."
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He says they'll be going out again February 13. Experienced divers interested in participating can call 954-420-0009 for more information.
Here's video of the site now: