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Barge Flip Leads To Topsy Turvy "Easter Island" Reef

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FT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) - It looks like Mother Ocean had her own plans for a new artificial reef installation in the waters off Deerfield Beach over the weekend.

Reef on barge
Reef on barge before sinking.

The Rapa Nui Reef, by artist Dennis MacDonald, features 15 figures of Moai - thought to be the protectors of the ancient people who lived on Rapa Nui, what is now Easter Island. The project was bankrolled by Margaret Blume who wanted to mix art in public places with education and marine conservation.

On Sunday, a barge carrying the 150 feet long, 50 foot wide, installation was towed about a half mile off-shore.

When time came to sink the barge in 70 feet of water, it overturned, causing the statues to sink head-first on a reef.

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The artist, MacDonald, said it's hard for him to see the underwater video of his creation. Most of the sculptures were destroyed--one was found floating on the surface of the water, others were found below the surface broken or buried.

"I went into silent mode. I felt everything. I think that everybody that loved the project felt--except I created it," Artist MacDonald said.

Arilton Pavan with Dixie Divers, one of the brains behind the project, said they are trying to figure something out.

"You can see the statues there. It's just the head of the Moais are buried in the sand, some heads and some others not because we had the big structures we made for the environment too for the creatures and so on," said Pavan.

Blume said they lost most of the sculpture.

"I think there's one Moai left on his head, with a bad concussion," Blume said.

Reef nose dive
Reef takes nose dive.

MacDonald, Pavan, and others involved in the project met with city leaders in attempt to figure out what's next.

"We know there's a stable platform I can add something too so I'll go back and start dreaming again," MacDonald said.

At this point, MacDonald said they will probably not try to flip the barge over--they will work with what's there, creating a new piece of underwater art.

"There are a myriad of stories that we can tell and approaches we can take, I don't know what's is going to be the best, I just know that it's not over," MacDonald said.

Blume is also devastated but is looking ahead.

"I really don't think it's going to die. Somehow this thing is going to be one of those wonderful stories just continuing," she said.

The idea behind the project was not only so that divers could swim around a unique piece of art but it was also to attract marine life.

Even upside down, divers are swimming around getting a closer look. But for now, at least, the advice is to look from a distance.

"We are not advising any divers to go inside, we want to keep them safe. You can visit the dive site, you can swim around, take pictures, everything," Pavan said.

The City of Deerfield Beach put out a press release Monday that reads in part:

"On behalf of the privately funded Rapa Nui Team, the City of Deerfield Beach is saddened and disappointed with yesterday's events surrounding the sinking of the barge." The release goes to explain that the "sinking of an artificial reef is not an exact science. There are many variables involved that make for numerous uncertainties."

Also noted was that the project was privately funded and that the city, "did not use any public tax dollars" and had no oversight or responsibility over the project.


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