Portugal's first underwater exhibition unveiled in Albufeira
Photo: Nuno Sá

Portugal’s first underwater exhibition unveiled in Albufeira

‘Artificial reef’ aims to attract tourists and foster marine life 

The first underwater exhibition in Portugal was unveiled on Tuesday in Albufeira.

The ‘EDP Art Reef’ features 13 artworks created by Portuguese artist Alexandre Faro, also known as Vhils, which were sunken around one mile off Santa Eulália beach.

The goal is for the ‘artificial reef’ to not only become a new tourist attraction in the Algarve but also foster new marine life in the area.

Vhils was challenged to create the artworks by national electricity company EDP using old parts from deactivated EDP plants.

“I tried to find various stories of our relationship as humans with the sea, a story made up of subsistence, confrontation, tensions, but also trying to look for various points where our history met the sea,” the artist said at the inauguration of the exhibition.

As he admitted, this project was his “most complex and challenging work” so far, not only because it involved a “team of many people” but also because “it took place at the bottom of the sea, a place in constant movement” and” where human presence is not natural”.

Portugal's first underwater exhibition unveiled in Albufeira
Photo: Beatriz Maio

While Vhils says that almost all his work is ephemeral, he pointed out that in this case the actual goal is for the sea to “take over” the pieces.

“Here, in particular, the pieces are really designed for the sea to take over. This is already happening in some of them, and the pieces are also designed to evolve,” he explained, reiterating that some of them will only be unveiled as they transform later on.

Before being submerged at a depth of 12 metres, the works that Vhils created from parts of old coal and fuel-fired power stations, which have since been decommissioned, were exhibited at EDP’s headquarters in Lisbon.

EDP’s markets director, Catarina Barradas, guaranteed that the project always took care to ensure it was helping the local ecosystem.

“We worked with a series of scientific institutions to ensure that what we were doing was the best for that ecosystem,” she said, noting that the project will make a positive contribution to its development.

Albufeira mayor José Carlos Rolo also attended the ceremony, expressing his satisfaction that the borough was chosen to host the project.

“This is a good example of sustainability,” he said, highlighting the “urgency of seriously considering all issues related to climate change”.

Rolo also pointed out that the project will provide a new incentive for tourists to visit Albufeira.

Due to legal and regulatory requirements, all visitors to the underwater exhibition “must be accompanied by a specialised company,” EDP says.

“You will be guided on your visit by a technician and it is necessary to have insurance and to sign a liability waiver,” it adds.

The full list of operators includes:

The underwater exhibition site will be monitored over the next few years and will be available for scientific and environmental study, in addition to its cultural and awareness-raising aspects.

The project was developed with the support of Albufeira Council, national tourism authority Turismo de Portugal, the University of the Algarve’s Sea Science centre (CCMar) and approved by the Board of Natural Resources (DGRM) and the Portuguese Environmental Agency, while the sinking of the artworks was authorised by the Institute for Nature and Forest Conservation and the National Maritime Authority.

By Beatriz Maio