How a life-size VW Beetle becomes an underwater tourist attraction

In the Caribbean off the coast of Cancun, Mexico, lies what looks like a old-fashioned Volkswagen Beetle. Resting in about 30 feet of water, the Bug appears to have been dropped there intact; it's coated in algae and coral, with a few lobsters using it as habitat, but realistic enough that you can almost see the letters on its tires. It's not a real Beetle, but part of an unusual art project that's already become a popular destination for underwater tourists.

The Beetle was created by artist Jason DeCaires Taylor, who has filled what's now known as the Cancun Underwater Museum with some 500 sculptures drawn from everyday life in Mexico. Taylor has been building underwater sculptures since 2006, using marine concrete -- far more resistant to corrosion from sea salt than regular concrete -- as a way to draw attention to the plight of natural coral reefs while taking some of the pressure from diving tourism away from them. The sculptures are also designed to resist severe hurricanes, another threat to coral reefs.

Most of Taylor's sculptures are made from casts using live models from the local population; after carving the concrete and planting some coral colonies to spur growth, they're lowered precisely into place by a boat-mounted crane. The original Bug remains a mainstay of life in Mexico, where it stayed in production until 2003, and only in the past few years was the last one serving as a Mexico City taxicab retired from service.

But Taylor's life-size replica of a Bug, which he called "Anthropocene," weighed eight tons. As this Discovery clip shows, Taylor and his team had to tie the Bug to giant air bags, then tow it six miles from shore to the drop site. They eventually put the sculpture in place -- but not before dropping it a couple of times when the air bags broke free from the Bug. While the coral will make it unrecognizable in a few years, it will still keep the iconic Beetle shape well after the surface copies have turned to rust.

Photos: B.campbell65 via Flickr

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