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Anti-sewage sculpture by world-renowned artist Jason deCaires Taylor appears on Whitstable beach

An anti-sewage sculpture by a world-renowned artist is on display at a popular beach.

Residents in Whitstable and other Kentish coastal towns have long-campaigned against releases into the sea by Southern Water.

And one outspoken group, SOS Whitstable, has been at the forefront of fighting against the pollution and raising awareness about the water firm’s actions.

The sculpture by Jason deCaires Taylor was unveiled near the Old Neptune pub on West Beach yesterday, surprising many visitors.

DeCaires Taylor is known for his impressive underwater works across the globe, and the project was funded by the Bertha Foundation, which aims to support activists working to bring about social justice.

Called Sirens of Sewage, the piece features lifecasts of members of the Whitstable community, including a cold water swimmer, a school child, a kitesurfer, a lifeboat volunteer and a fisherman. The group hold placards which read: “End sewage pollution” and “people over profit”.

SOS Whitstable co-founder Bryony Carter said: "It has been more than a year of endless secret meetings, calls and conversations to make this happen.

Whitstable SOS and Jason deCaires Taylor have unveiled Sirens of Sewage at West Beach in Whitstable. Picture: SOS Whitstable
Whitstable SOS and Jason deCaires Taylor have unveiled Sirens of Sewage at West Beach in Whitstable. Picture: SOS Whitstable

“We are so proud to have worked with a world-renowned talent like Jason, who as an underwater sculptor was passionate about our cause from the start.

“Having his work on our shore is such a huge honour – for us and Whitstable.

“The installation is a stark reminder of our ongoing battle with the sewage pollution problem but also celebrates the concept of community and how we have all come together as sea lovers to try and enforce change.”

The sculptures will now sit at the Neptune for six months while it is hoped a permanent home will be found for them later this year - hopefully in the water.

Southern Water has faced scrutiny over its releases in recent years and was named among the country’s worst-performing companies by Ofwat in 2022.

Sirens of Sewage was transferred to West Beach in Whitstable this weekend. Picture: SOS Whitstable
Sirens of Sewage was transferred to West Beach in Whitstable this weekend. Picture: SOS Whitstable

In 2021, it was fined a record £90m for dumping billions of litres of raw sewage into the sea at 17 sites, with various spillages around the east Kent coast.

The overflows are designed to legally discharge excess sewage and rainwater when under strain to prevent sewers becoming overloaded and backing up into homes.

Southern Water claims the releases are made up of 95% rainwater and are permitted by the Environment Agency.

A major project to increase wastewater holding capacity, which Southern Water says will reduce releases into the sea by almost a third, was completed last summer.

Sirens of Sewage forms part of Jason deCaires Taylor’s Siren series, which are artworks designed to “reveal environmental issues that are often hidden beneath the waves”.

The sculpture being assembled. Picture: SOS Whitstable
The sculpture being assembled. Picture: SOS Whitstable

His website states: “This particular artwork serves as an important reminder of this ongoing crisis, urging us to confront the pressing need for systemic change. Whether through the nationalisation of our water industry or stringent regulation, we must demand a future where clean water is not a privilege but a fundamental right for both our communities and marine habitats alike.”

Taylor, who previously spoke to KentOnline about his work, gained international recognition in 2006 with the creation of the world’s first underwater sculpture park off the West coast of Grenada in the West Indies. Moilinere Bay Underwater Sculpture Park is now listed as one of the Top 25 Wonders of the World by National Geographic.

Canterbury City Council’s cabinet member for coastal towns Chris Cornell (Lab) said: “Art is designed to inspire conversation and this piece will certainly get people talking about how we fix our broken water industry.

“The council stands united with the many groups here in demanding the need to clean up our seas.”

Jon Yates, Southern Water's pathfinder delivery lead, says reducing storm overflows is the firm’s “number one priority”.

“We agree with our customers their use is unacceptable which is why we launched our £1.5 billion Clean Rivers and Seas Plan. We are currently exploring nature-based and engineering solutions to find the best way to reduce spills, and Whitstable is at the centre of this work.

“We have spent £25 million to upgrade and optimise our Swalecliffe Wastewater Treatment Works. We are also continuing to roll out a range of sustainable drainage schemes including the installation of more than 1,000 free, slow-drain water butts on homes, as well as the introduction of rain gardens and tree pits to divert or slow the flow of water entering our sewers.

“We are also keen to continue working closely with local groups on Citizen Science programmes to take bathing water samples throughout the year and we are doing this with SOS Whitstable and Canterbury City Council.”

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