Can art save the seas? ReefLine says yes



Some of the largest and most powerful works of art in South Beach in the last few years have been developed by BlueLab Preservation Society in partnership with the City of Miami Beach.

Called the ReefLine, these works feature environmentally safe artworks by major international artists and designers. After the free public exhibitions, the work will be placed off the coast starting in Spring / Summer 2022.

The 9-mile underwater public sculpture park, snorkel trail, and artificial reef will be located off Miami Beach’s shoreline.

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The stunning site of concrete cars on the beach in 2019, and this year’s giant inflatable iceberg, are just the beginning.

ReefLine What Lies Beneath
“What Lies Beneath,” two buoyant iceberg sculptures created by Carlos Betancourt and Commissioned by The ReefLine, floating in Faena Hotel’s pool. (Courtesy photo)

Conceived by BlueLab’s Chair Ximena Caminos, Vice-Chair Kate Fleming, and Coral Morphologic, in close consultation with a team of expert marine biologists, researchers, architects, and coastal engineers, the ReefLine will begin at the fourth street on South Beach and run north, providing a habitat for endangered reef organisms, promoting biodiversity, and enhancing coastal resilience. Coral will grow and give a home to turtles, fish, and other marine life.

“This series of artist-designed and scientist-informed artificial reefs will demonstrate to the world how tourism, artistic expression, and the creation of critical habitat can be aligned,” says Ximena Caminos, Founder and Artistic Director. ‘The Reefline is a singular investment in civic infrastructure, public art, and environmental protection that will pay dividends over the coming decades and attract ecologically-minded tourists and art lovers.”

New to the board of directors is architect/artist Alberto Latorre, a longtime South Beach resident who works to coordinate and facilitate the enormous and complicated works of art.

architect/artist Alberto Latorre
Architect Alberto Latorre conceptualizing a breeze block for a tabique wall, as part of an architectural project in Mexico. (Courtsey photo)

“I’m the part of the team of directors for the ReefLine now, that invite came through Ximena Caminos, she is the founder, and we work through the foundation, that is very interested in coastal resiliency, restoring everything that has to do with the ocean and using art as a way to mitigate. I have worked originally with Ximena in other projects throughout many, many years, and we did one very successful project for Design Miami. I was the co-curator and producer of a project called Roots, a project that talked about sustainability at the time when the Amazons were burning and sea levels rising.”

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What attracted him also was the way they were going to go about producing large-scale projects.

“She said, we’re not going to be selling any kind of product, we’re going to be giving an experience and educating people,” Latorre says.

The first project they did was a structure that looked like a large root system where viewers could lie underneath it and have a kind of sonic sound bath experience. He pulled it all off in 2 months and got Delta airlines as a sponsor.

He did another on sacred plants, his first “that I actually worked using architecture and art as a platform to advocate for something special in this case, sustainability, and the environment.”

So, three years ago, Caminos called Latorre and asked if he could step in as she needed somebody with a level of expertise to liaise between the artists, the fabricators, the engineers on a project about legacy. A project that deals with the environment, for today and the future. And something to leave behind.

She had been looking out at the ocean and said “I need to put together a team that can help me make this a reality. When we looked at our coast, there’s not much there. There’s not much life, just a clear, beautiful beach that has been smothered through time and through development and dredging.”

While there have been small-scale projects that sunk art sculptures to create new reefs, they are not large, such as the Mermaid Project in Ft. Lauderdale and the religious statue in Key Largo. This was to be something much more grandiose.

One project he is involved in developing for the reef is Leandro Erlich’s Order of Importance, a lineup of concrete cars on the beach that will now be modified to create Concrete Coral.

Leandro Erlich's, Concrete Coral, an installation of 22 concrete cars submerged in the water
Rendering of Leandro Erlich’s, Concrete Coral, an installation of 22 concrete cars submerged in the water, an exhibition that was featured during Art Basel Miami 2019. (Courtesy photo)

“My involvement with Leandro’s design has been specifically for The Reefline.  It has included some coordination of engineering design, cost evaluation, and fabrication analysis using the precast concrete.  We have not fabricated it yet, but the message behind it is talking about water rising levels. So now we’re going to submerge your cars and we’re still talking about water rising in the actual water.”

“For example, when the floor was surveyed for the first permit, between 3rd street and 5th street, our coastal engineers, they saw just a few patches of grass. And lucky enough, the City of Miami Beach has become a partner to the project, endorsing and believing in this idea. We’re talking about miles and miles of segmented reefs; they will be tight in one way or another with structures. How beautiful it would be to just go and try to discover, whether snorkeling and scuba diving and see what art is being placed out there.”

Reefline predicts this will create space for a different type of eco-tourism, a great opportunity for the city as it is real art along with the attraction of the deco architecture, and the beach.

Latorre explains his passion for this unique project.

“I am involved with the Reefline in part due to the passion I developed as a kid growing up in Puerto Rico between a beach town neighborhood and a weekend home in the mountains of Orocovix.  As an architect, I am committed to creating works using architecture, design, and art as a vehicle to blend the lines between art and our relationship to nature. I have always been intrigued by that concept and the Reefline provides this opportunity.

I have been collaborating with artist Carlos Betancourt since 2000 in multiple site-specific arts in public places and corporate commissions of enormous scales many times located on very complicated sites or environments.  I have vast knowledge and experience working with engineers, fabricators, and installers translating artistic ideas into the tangible. As an adult, I now own land with waterfalls in the El Yunque rainforest.  So far, this land is untouched by development and perhaps I am just a jungle keeper,” he laughs.

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Can art save the seas? ReefLine says yes

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