In 2010, Colleen conceived the idea of a DNA-inspired coral refuge and began raising funds for the project on kickstarter. Just as the sculpture arrived at the port to be installed in the summer of 2011, torrential rains poured down.
The international team was ready to anchor the project to the seafloor, but an unforeseen obstacle emerged with permitting between the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) and Club Med, the resort that was involved in this undertaking with the underwater museum, MUSA. Lawyers entrenched over liability.
Revision after revision of contracts for a couple of years carried on until finally Colleen realized she needed to seek new locations. Never-ending patience wasn't the answer. In January of 2014, there was further excitement and cause for celebration when Colleen received sponsorship to add an underwater webcam to the project. Still, the project was continuing to run into roadblocks.
At the three year mark of waiting for permits, with the structure sitting in an enclosed field getting rusty, Colleen went to the Mexican Consulate in New York, where she sought allies to help push the project forward. In August of 2014, the installation site was moved to Punta Nizuc Resort and Spa, thanks to MUSA's board members. December 2014, Colleen flew back to Mexico, determined to stay planted there until Zoe was in the water, and the live stream was fully operational.
In 2015, the resort put the project on hold until 2016, but with no date given to resume. Colleen began seeking new locations again via the many incredible connections she made while waiting and negotiating (and waiting). New leads in Jamaica and the British Virgin Islands emerged for Zoe's home.
Unlike cement and other materials for artificial reef projects in the area, Zoe required more infrastructure - electricity, and internet. In 2016, plans to be part of MUSA in Cancún were blocked due to challenges with not only electrical and internet needs, but with issues of adequate water depth, access for public visitors, and a growing intuition that it still wasn't quite right.
Colleen's tenacity, creativity, and collaborative skills paid off. A serendipitous meeting at a birthday party led to the "right" location in Cozumel. On September 8, 2016, Colleen received the final signature from the government to install Zoe in an incredible home and became the first coral restoration project using electrolytic mineral accretion in the area.
Zoe touched the seafloor in Quintana Roo, Cozumel, Mexico, on September 28, 2016, and the electricity was started on the 29th.
The story and challenges continue to grow, as does Zoe - A Living Sea Sculpture.
These are images of the first outing to check on Zoe since the Covid-19 closures in March 2020.
Penn Schrader, dive instructor and Zoe team guide, though out of the country, is coordinating small groups of volunteers to study and maintain this memorial coral restoration project now that limited diving activities are happening again in Cozumel.
Huge thanks to Theresa Steger, Benji Buchholz, and Jose Luis Prada Orozco for your work in the ocean! These beautiful images of Zoe and the surrounding area by Jose Luis Prada Orozco are important to our research.
Photo by Lefke Kerr