You may have heard of sculptures by the sea, but what about sculptures under the sea?

Busselton Jetty
The iconic Busselton Jetty. Photo: Tourism Australia and Scott Slawinski

Busselton Jetty facts

  • The Busselton Jetty is the southern hemisphere’s longest timber-pile jetty, located on Wadandi Boodja where the saltwater Wadandi people hunt and have had close spiritual links to the ocean, for thousands of years.
  • The iconic 1.8 km jetty has been named one of Australia’s top ten shore dive sites due to its diverse marine life – over 300 marine species live in the pristine waters of Geographe Bay.
  • Following a fire in 1999 that destroyed 70 metres of the north end of the jetty, burnt piles were removed as part of the refurbishment in 2011.
  • Removing the old piles reduced the functional marine habitat and availability of food for fish, and the idea to creating an artificial reef to restore the ecosystem was born.

Artificial reef

In 2018, Environmental Manager Sophie Teede and the team at Busselton Jetty began research into building an artificial reef to provide marine vertebrates and invertebrates with functional habitat where natural reefs no longer exist.

The decision to have artists create underwater sculptures to form the reef was made early in the planning process. When we chatted with Sophie, she said the artificial reef was first and foremost an environmental enhancement and including artists turned out to be a fantastic decision.

Including artists turned out to be a fantastic decision in terms of the project outcomes and being able to not only achieve the benefits for the environment but also contribute back to our immediate community.

Busselton Jetty
The Underwater Sculpture Park functions as an artificial reef to help restore the ecosystem. Photo: Lewis Burnett

Getting artists onboard

The response to expressions of interest from artists was amazing, with over 60 artists submitting ideas Australia-wide. The 25 shortlisted artists, chosen for their experience in creating outdoor artwork, submitted detailed plans that were presented to a panel. Unfortunately, they only had a permit for 13 artworks and chose the final 12 artists from Perth and the Southwest of Western Australia.

The sculptures, designed to have a lifespan of over 30 years, are constructed from various chemically stable materials, including concrete, bronze, steel and ceramics. Sophie says the materials were chosen to be durable while benefiting the marine habitat. For example, when steel breaks down it provides marine life with iron, which is a part of their dietary needs.

Over the past three years, the environmental team at Busselton Jetty have worked with the artists to complete and install the underwater sculptures on the seabed (8m below the surface) at the northern end of the jetty. The biggest sculpture in the collection is a life-sized Southern Right Whale by Alan Meyburgh.

Busselton Jetty
An array of sculptures awaits discovery, like The Crab by Shaun Williamson and David Gaze. Photo: Lewis Burnett

Significant marine species

Geographe Bay and the surrounding waters of Busselton Jetty accommodate several marine creatures of national significance. Species include loggerheads, green and leatherback turtles, weedy sea dragons and widebody pipefish. The bay is also a known path for migratory cetaceans, including humpback whales and endangered southern right and blue whales.

The artificial reef will provide a habitat and food for the significant species while also catering to the local marine life, and Sophie says the project aims to connect to the public through marine tourism and environmental conservation initiatives.

I hope the project helps people to become better stewards and develop knowledge about their marine environment.

Common (Weedy) Sea Dragon
A common weedy sea dragon captured at night at the Busselton Jetty. Photo: Brian Hoehn

How can I experience the Underwater Sculpture Park?

The Underwater Sculpture Park is an immersive experience for anyone who likes to dive, snorkel or swim in the bay. While those unable to access the water or who prefer to stay on land, can view some of the sculptures and marine life from a jetty platform. You can also walk or swim to the end of the jetty, or jump aboard the Stocker Preston Express, an electric solar-powered train. Or while you’re there, join a tour of the Underwater Observatory, which is one of only six in the world.

Jetty Day Passes, Train tickets and Underwater Observatory Tour tickets can be purchased from the Interpretive Centre and Museum situated at the beginning of the Jetty. Then as the sun sets in Geographe Bay, finish the day with a refreshing brew and bite at the nearby Shelter Brewing Co. overlooking the Jetty.

Busselton Jetty
Visit the Busselton Jetty to explore the sheer beauty of Geographe Bay. Photo: Lewis Burnett

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