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9 Amazing Statues You Can Only See Underwater

The vast oceans contain many natural wonders, but they are also home to some astounding additions made by humans. Across the world statues have been sunk into the oceans for a variety of reasons—as memorials, to offer protection to a fragile marine environment, or simply as art. Colored with algae and populated by coral, some of the statues have become tourist destinations in their own right.

1. CHRIST OF THE ABYSS // A MEMORIAL TO DIVERS LOST AT SEA

Christ of the Abyss in Florida. Image credit: vgm8383 via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Famous Italian diver Duilio Marcante conceived the idea of placing a statue of Christ under the water near a popular dive site in San Fruttuoso, near Portofino, Italy, after his good friend and fellow diver Dario Gonzatti lost his life diving near that spot in 1947. Sculptor Guido Galletti received the commission, and created an 8-foot bronze statue of Christ with his arms outstretched. The statue was placed more than 50 feet underwater in 1954 and provides not just a memorial to those who have lost their lives at sea but also a reference point for divers in distress.

Christ of the Abyss has become a busy diving site and in 2003 the statue was removed from the ocean for refurbishment after it became corroded and lost a hand due to being hit with an anchor. It was returned to the sea in 2005. The beautiful and affecting statue has proved so popular it has been recast a number of times and copies now exist in St George, Grenada and Key Largo, Florida.

2. VIRGIN MARY // DETERRING ILLEGAL FISHING

In 2010 in Bohol, the Philippines, locals placed two statues 60 feet underwater near a very rare double barrier reef, the Danajon Bank. The delicate marine area had been a victim of overfishing and some fishermen were resorting to using dynamite and cyanide to increase their catch. In order to deter this destructive behavior, two 14-foot statues of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus were placed on the sea floor, apparently to remind everyone that God created this special marine environment. The initiative worked, and dynamite is no longer used for fear of damaging the religious icons. Instead, divers flock to the site to admire and pray at the statues.

3. OCEAN ATLAS // HOLDING THE OCEAN ALOFT

Creators Project/YouTube

The largest known underwater statue is Ocean Atlas, made by sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor and placed 16 feet underwater off Nassau, the Bahamas, in 2014. The statue was designed to draw attention to the need to conserve the oceans. Ocean Atlas weighs 60 tons and depicts a girl sitting hunched over, seemingly holding up the ocean above her; the piece is inspired by the Greek legend of Atlas, the Titan who held the world aloft. DeCaires Taylor specializes in creating underwater works of art and uses special pH-neutral marine cement, which is intended to last for hundreds of years and encourages coral and seaweed to colonize it, forming an artificial reef.

4. MOLINERE, GRENADA // WORLD’S FIRST UNDERWATER SCULPTURE PARK

The world’s first underwater sculpture park was created in 2006 in Molinere Bay just off St. George's in Grenada, after the area was damaged by a storm surge. It was hoped that the sympathetic sculptures, also created by Jason deCaires Taylor, would help the sea life regenerate by providing surfaces for algae and coral to cling to. One of the first installations was Vicissitudes, a circle of life-sized figures with interlinked hands, cast from the bodies of local children. More recently, 14 new sculptures based on Amerindian art by local artist Troy Lewis have been added to the park, including a 3-foot high Zemi, or stone idol.

5. EASTER ISLAND STATUE // MYSTERIOUS MOAI

Off the coast of Easter Island, home to the amazing carved stone Moai figures, lies an underwater statue that is not all that it seems. The 10-foot tall concrete Moai is not an original ancient statue but a modern replica. Mystery surrounds the origins of the piece—some claim it was created by modern-day residents of Easter Island and placed underwater as a tourist attraction, while others assert that it was a prop created either for a Chilean television show or for a 1994 Kevin Costner movie. Whatever the truth, the statue has become a popular dive site, especially since the lack of pollution means that the crystal clear waters give divers a great view of the submerged statue.

6. AMPHITRITE // MERMAID STATUE OFF GRAND CAYMAN

In 2000, the Canadian artist Simon Morris created a 9-foot-tall bronze statue of a mermaid, named for Amphitrite, the wife of Greek god of the sea Poseidon. The 600-pound mermaid statue was sunk under 50 feet of water off the coast of Grand Cayman Island in Sunset Reef (an earlier version also exists in British Columbia). When the statue was put in place, it was lowered into the water using a crane before being towed to its resting place. To ensure the statue did not crack on its journey into the deep, three small holes were drilled into the head of the statue to allow air bubbles to escape. The statue is now a popular place for divers.

7. NEPTUNE MEMORIAL REEF // UNDERWATER MAUSOLEUM

The Neptune Memorial Reef off Key Biscayne, Florida, was created in 2007 as an underwater mausoleum with statues and memorials constructed from cremated remains. Built in the style of the lost city of Atlantis, the Neptune Memorial Reef is now the world’s largest human-made reef. Those wishing to have their loved one buried in this unique manner can have cremated remains mixed with non-porous cement, which is then fashioned into a statue or memorial stone of their choosing. Mourners (and curious divers alike) can then dive or snorkel the site to explore the vast underwater cemetery and coral garden and pay their respects.

8. RUINS OF BAIAE, ITALY // ROMAN ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIVE SITE

In Roman times, Baiae on the Bay of Naples was the equivalent of Las Vegas—a party site packed with lavish villas and populated by the elite. Unfortunately, the bay-side location proved its undoing, since the whole area is plagued by volcanic activity, and the entire city was abandoned by 1500 before being reclaimed by the sea. Today Baiae is a protected archaeological underwater park. Many of the statues have been removed to local museums, but excellent replicas stand in their place, ensuring the ruined temples retain their original character. Tourists can explore the area by glass-bottomed boat, snorkel, or scuba-diving, providing a tantalizing glimpse of this once thriving (and decadent) Roman resort.

9. MUSA // UNDERWATER SCULPTURE PARK

The Museo Subacuatico de Arte (MUSA) off Cancun, Mexico, is an underwater sculpture park for divers and snorkelers that now contains over 500 statues. Created in 2009, the site covers some 4520 square feet of otherwise featureless seabed and utilizes materials that promote sea life, creating an artificial reef. Six artists have created works for the underwater museum, ranging from interactive stone hoops through which divers can swim to Silent Evolution, the largest exhibit, which features a crowd of 450 life-sized statues. One of the aims of the project is to help protect the nearby natural reefs (which are becoming damaged through overuse) by diverting visitors to MUSA, an otherwise barren area of seabed.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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iStock
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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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