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Best Scuba Diving Sites with Statues and Sculptures

Dive from Egypt to China and Japan to Grand Cayman to encounter ancient cities, mermen and an unsolved mystery. Here are the best scuba diving sites with man-made structures.

1. Key Largo, Florida

christ of the abyss statue key largo florida

Key Largo, Florida

Tom Stack

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Fiery Photo Op
“We get at least three calls a day about the Christ of the Abyss statue,” says Jack Fishman, master scuba diver trainer for the Key Largo-based Rainbow Reef Dive Center. The 9-foot-tall bronze figure, a creation sponsored by the gear-making Cressi family, honors those lives lost at sea; sister sculptures rest in Grenada and Italy. Occasionally it’s religion that inspires visits, but more often, it’s the desire for an easy photo op. The statue lies on the sand in between fingers of reef at a depth of roughly 25 feet, so snorkelers and divers alike can mug without limits. Says Fishman, “On dives that I’m guiding, I’m usually sitting for 20 minutes at the site while people take selfies — sideways, upside down, you name it.” The one warning Fishman makes is not to put an arm around the statue or kiss it because large patches of it are encrusted with stinging fire coral.

2. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

guardian reef statue grand cayman

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Ellen Cuylaerts

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Let Your Imagination Swim Wild
“Most kids don’t get to dive wrecks and relics, so it’s cool for them to experience the Guardian of the Reef statue,” says Margo Peyton, president of Kids Sea Camp. Her tour organization, specializing in international scuba trips for families, spends part of June at Cobalt Coast Resort on Grand Cayman’s northwest point where the 13-foot bronze merman stands in 65 feet of water. “To them, it’s a real merman because kids, unlike adults, dive with their imaginations,” says Peyton.;

Leading Lady
Sure, it’s a reverent moment to meet the 9-foot Amphitrite sunk 50 feet deep on the Sunset House reef — but it’s also a face-to-face that will likely leave you chuckling. The statue has two wellworn spots where no corals seem to take hold. Her female charms are part of the reason she’s one of Grand Cayman’s most beloved underwater photo ops — as is the ease of reaching her from shore. Plus myriad sea life, including gray angelfish and schools of creole wrasse, flit around the figure.

3. Cancun, Mexico

underwater museum mexico cancun

Cancun, Mexico

Luis Javier Sandoval / V&W /

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Eyes on the Prize
“My recommendation is to go at night,” says sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor of his collection of 470 underwater works sunk to roughly 30 feet at the Cancun Underwater Museum, aka MUSA. The collection includes think pieces such as The Listener, composed of casts of human ears, meant to inspire viewers to reflect on the sounds of the reefs. Taylor suggests night diving because the black water most emulates the white walls of a typical art gallery, limiting distraction. “Normally when you’re diving, there’s so much going on,” says Taylor, “But with a dive torch, you focus on just a bit at a time.” Note that Taylor’s works can be found in two parks in the greater Cancun area: The collection that includes The Listener lies in Punta Nizuc, and the other park, Salon Manchones, can be found off the southwestern coast of Isla Mujeres.

4. Qiandao Lake, China

underwater city china shi cheng city

Qiandao Lake, China

Leigh Chen

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The Cat’s Meow
The need for hydropower prompted the Chinese government in 1959 to flood Shi Cheng City, a Han Dynasty-era community. It remained lost until 2008 when news of it reached Leigh Chen, co-owner of Big Blue Diving, an operator in Shanghai, a five-hour drive east of the ancient city. The 220-square-mile site and its archways, homes, statues and gates proved intriguing to Chen, and despite having to search in visibility too poor to see his own hand at times, he continued, stumbling upon the first of the city’s five gates — embellished with a lion carving, earning the location, dating to 200 A.D., the nickname the Lion City. Big Blue Diving visits the sites only on weekends.

5. Alexandria, Egypt

Ancient Adventure
Although it’s outside recreational limits at 150 feet deep, the Lost City of Heracleion proves too massive to not mention. Dating to the eighth century B.C., this civilization was the stuff of myths, discussed only by readers of ancient texts until 2000, when Franck Goddio, along with the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology, uncovered remains from the ancient site 4 miles off Egypt’s coast. It’s thought to have been the port once welcoming all ships into Alexandria, Egypt. The reveal unearthed a collection of 16-foot statues of Egyptian gods, gold coins, stone slabs covered in hieroglyphics, limestone sarcophagi that once held mummified animals, plus the remains of 64 ships and more than 700 anchors.,

6. New Providence, Bahamas

ocean atlas underwater sculpture

New Providence, Bahamas

Lia Barrett

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Meaningful Masterpiece
At 60 tons and 18 feet tall, Ocean Atlas is the world’s largest underwater statue — and its message is meant to be equally weighty. The symbolism reminds us that the fate of Earth’s oceans rests on our shoulders. Sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor intends the message as a positive reminder that locals can do their part to save the reefs. His art lies just yards from the beach and feet from the sea’s surface, making it ideal for snorkeling and shore diving. Find it in the Clifton Heritage National Park on the westernmost tip of the island; the drive time from the capital city of Nassau is roughly 30 minutes.

7. Yonaguni, Japan

Yonaguni japan scuba diving

Yonaguni, Japan

Michael Pitts/NPL/Minden Pictures

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Dive in the Unknown
The terraced ledges of the Yonaguni Pyramid, found on the south side of Japan’s Yonaguni Island, are still merely alleged to be man-made — nothing has been proved since their discovery in the 1980s. Believers, including local university professor Masaaki Kimura, have argued that the 90-degree angles of the sand- and mudstone structure, the paintings of animals, and the precise circles cut into the rocks all point to the efforts of an advanced prehistoric society. Says Kimura, “During the past 10,000 years, the ocean water level rose about [130 feet]; from this fact, it is only natural to think that the ancient civilization is now deep in water.” The site is favored among the divers —believers or otherwise — who visit the island to encounter hammerheads in the winter months.

8. Naples, Italy

underwater sculpture Italy baiae

Naples, Italy

Antonio Busiello

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Underwater Odyssey
Another archaeological score, this one in 1959, led to the discovery of the Sunken City of Baia — a former hedonism haunt for Rome’s rich and famous, including Nero, Cicero and Caesar, lasting until the eighth century A.D. Now the remains lie within the Underwater Archaeological Park of Baiae in the Bay of Naples. Divers guide themselves to the highlights, including the nymphaeum and a collection of statues, including Odysseus offering a wine goblet to Cyclops.

9. Bohol, Philippines

Heavenly Encounter
To curb the illegal fishing practices of dynamite and cyanide off the island of Bohol, two 14-foot statues, one of the Virgin Mary and one of the Holy Child Jesus, were sunk in 2010 in the Bien Unido Double Barrier Reef Marine Park. For divers, it’s the chance to pray and reflect 60 feet below the surface.