Swim through a tunnel formed by the arched rib-cage remains of a prehistoric marine mammal at the Underwater Museum of Art off the Gulf Coast of Florida.
Atlanta-based artist Pat Mclain’s 2023 installation, Cetacean Remains, forms the tunnel and creates a singular interactive diving experience that offers something mysterious, yet rightfully in its place.
The Underwater Museum of Art (UMA) opened in 2018 and was the first permanent underwater sculpture exhibit in North America. Located in the gulf waters off Grayton Beach State Park in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, the sculptures lie roughly 60 feet underwater.
The museum’s original mission was to replenish the Walton County Gulf coast waters, which, over time, had become 95 percent barren sand flats. Artificial reefs created by the eco-friendly sculptures create a marine habitat where one had virtually disappeared.
Local and international artists craft jury-selected sculptures out of concrete, metal, or stone. Allison Wickey, a founding partner of the museum project, formed an intriguing, tentacled creature, an octopus entitled OPUS, for the 2023 season. Other original pieces include a winding, 65-foot-tall propeller in motion, and an eight-foot-tall steel pineapple, specially designed to help small fish thrive.
Since inception, over 100 animal and plant species—triggerfish, nurse sharks, and dozens of other fish, plus loggerhead and green sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins, and roughly 20 invertebrates and algae—have been observed in the UMA’s waters.
Know Before You Go
The museum is located roughly 60 feet deep and is only accessible to certified divers. Snorkelers can view the museum installations from above. Visit the museum’s interactive map to find information about dive shops, tours, and obtaining diving certification while visiting the area.
Dive30A offers trips to the dive site from Grayton Beach, Florida. Call 850-460-1442 for reservations. Emerald Coast Scuba in Destin offers regular trips and private charters to the dive site. The outfit also offers dive certifications.