Rapa Nui Reef Team: We Will Add More Sculptures to Dive Site

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On Sunday, a $500,000 artificial reef, designed to look like the famous moai sculptures on Easter Island, was destroyed when the barge transporting it flipped over and sunk to the bottom of the ocean — an event caught on dramatic video footage

Just over 24 hours later, the team behind the project emerged from a meeting with its response: No problem! We will just add more sculptures to the rubble!

According to Ron Coddington, an ocean engineer who says he consulted on the project as a volunteer, city officials and the leaders of the Rapa Nui Reef project on Monday afternoon had "literally just walked out of a meeting. The artist is home with a pencil."  He would start fresh with a new palette and design more moai (giant heads), Coddington said. "By the end of summer you will see this international dive destination rise from the ashes."  

Coddington explained that  the barge transporting the sculptures served as the foundation of the reef and was meant to be sunk. To sink it, eight "scuttle holes," each about 12 inches by 12 inches, had been cut in the sides of the hull, and temporary covers had been bolted on. When the barge was put in the water and reached the spot where it was supposed to be lowered to the sea floor, eight men climbed down ladders into the dry hull and each removed bolts and a cover, while also banging them with sledgehammers to let water rush in. Coddington says, "The first seven went faster. The eighth took much longer" — resulting in uneven flooding of the barge. The men, he said, were easily able to climb out of the barge as it flooded, and stepped onto an adjacent tugboat.  

He said there had been 100,000 pounds of ballast in the barge. He admitted that "there were engineering estimates that were performed on the barge that indicated there were some questions," but that the team decided the risks were manageable.  

Codding said that Margaret Blume, who funded the project was "all smiles" on Monday and that she had been aware of the risk. He contended that many artificial reef projects go awry.  "Maragret is not being asked for funding" for additional sculptures, he said. "We are going to look to public donations for funding. You'll see some crowdfunding [initiatives.]" He would not provide a ballpark estimate of costs. 

Coddington said the area where the sculpture was sunk is a large area where Broward County has obtained the permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection and from the Army Corps of Engineers to create artificial reefs. 

"Maragret Blume had two goals," he said. 'One was to create underwater public art. two was to encourage marine and environmental research.  That goal was reached — it will attract fish and grow coral. Her goal of public art is what is interrupted at this point."  He said the team was focused on moving forward. 

And that additional sculptures would probably be lowered individually to the dive site. 

Divers visited the site Monday and shared images on social media. Coddington said there were no restrictions on the site and that experienced divers were exploring at their own risk.

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