Freediving a 60 Ton Statue in the Bahamas with Jenna Martin
Story and photos contributed by Jenna Martin
As the week of the SNAP Retreat in Nassau, Bahamas, was drawing to a close, I was on the hunt for one last thing. With all the storms taking place all week (something every local described as a very odd occurrence), I hadn’t gotten a chance to shoot underwater hardly at all. When Katie Storr (one of the attendees and a killer underwater photographer herself) mentioned she might be able to put something together with underwater statues (um, what?) and sharks (okay seriously, what?), I was ecstatic.
She put me in contact with Liz Parkinson of Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, and I honestly don’t remember much after that. Katie was surely getting annoyed with having to constantly repeat the details of where we were being picked up, what to bring, where we were going, but guys, sharks and underwater statues. I was like a giddy kid that just heard we were going to Disneyland in the morning. I couldn’t focus.
The Stuart Cove shuttle picked us up in front of the Melia. There were 10 of us in total, myself, Andy and Katie being the only photographers. We signed all the required documents and release forms while we were en route, and once we arrived, they took us aboard another boat to suit everyone with fins and snorkel gear. We only had a couple people with any snorkeling experience, but no worries, the crew was clear and helpful.
After we were all fitted we made our way to our new boat and we were off! Our captain, Jahrian, hooked up some music and before you knew it we were skimming across open ocean, everyone taking in the salt spray and sun on our faces, not to mention some really interesting info about the area. Did you know this place is basically underwater Hollywood? They’ve filmed a ton of movies out here, including Flipper, Cocoon, Into The Blue, L’Odyssee, Jaws IV, Splash, two James Bond movies (Thunderball and Never Say Never Again), and plenty more. I was in heaven.
Soon we were at the site of the underwater statues and Liz pointed to the flag sticking out of the water. “That’s right about her shoulder,” she said and gave us a bit of background information on “Ocean Atlas” as she called her. The statue was one of many built by Jason deCaires Taylor, is about 20 feet tall, weighs about 60 tons, is the largest underwater sculpture known to exist and is made to look like she is carrying the ocean on her back, much like the classic “Atlas”. Over time these statues grow plants and provide shelter for the marine life in the area, but the Stuart Cove staff also plant some additional coral to help the process along. It’s a beautiful thing.
I got my camera housing ready, strapped on my mask, slipped into the water and took off toward the flag. After a week of storms the water was a bit cloudy, which kept the statue hidden until the very last second. I crept closer and closer to the flag, becoming more excited with each kick. All at once I reached the flag, the water cleared up and there she was, her massive stone face looking up at me through the water.
I don’t think I’ve felt anything like that before. I’d surely never been in the presence of underwater statues before, and even though I knew what to expect – I’d seen pictures and video and Liz and Katie had described her perfectly – I just wasn’t ready. It was eerie and breathtaking and majestic and a bit terrifying all at once. It took me a second for my brain to register I was making eye contact WITH A FREAKING 6′ STONE FACE STARING AT ME FROM UNDER THE WATER.
We began shooting immediately. I could tell it was a bit too cloudy to shoot the other, deeper underwater statues, so we stayed with “Ocean Atlas” until it was time to leave. I’ll be back to see her again though. This is definitely something that takes multiple viewings.
Plus, I mean, there’s an airplane down there from Jaws IV and I had to skip over it. So yeah, trip #2 already in the works.