Here’s how a rejected nude sculpture became a mission to plant 1,000 mermaids underwater.

Advertisement

If you’ve ever dreamed of becoming a mermaid — or at least seeing one underwater — your aquatic fantasies can now come true in Florida.

The 1000 Mermaids Artificial Reef Project in West Palm Beach is recreating real people in the form of sustainable cement and limestone mermaids, and “planting” them underwater on ocean-friendly modules to help replenish local reefs. While the mission is to sink at least 1,000 mermaids, as the nonprofit’s name suggests, the organization has no plans to stop there.

Scuba diver underwater with sculpture of mermaid in Florida
Credit: Courtesy of Shelby Thomas

Located just off the shimmering shores of tony Palm Beach near Peanut Island, the sculpture garden — which, after the imminent second deployment, will number around 50 units — not only boosts ocean health, but also functions as an underwater public art installation and destination for divers.

The idea to plant 1,000 mermaid sculptures in the name of ocean conservation came about by chance for original founders Ernest Vasquez and Sierra Rasberry. The South Florida artists offer a unique luxury service to private clients through their company Miami Body Cast: They create commissioned body sculptures for homes, yachts, and beyond, tracing the model in plaster and creating a concrete sculpture from the mold.

When a client who had requested one of their works of art for his yacht got divorced (and lost his yacht in the process), he was, understandably, no longer interested in a sculpture of his ex-wife as a nude mermaid, joking they should “toss it in the ocean.” Vasquez and Rasberry took his advice, combining their passion for art and ecology and joining forces with Chris O’Hare of Reef Cells to launch the 1000 Mermaids project. Today, O’Hare, an artist, sculptor, and landscape architect who has been building reefs for 30 years, heads the project.

Those interested in having their likeness preserved on the seafloor can sponsor a reef module to have their own body transformed into a mermaid sculpture (the process now utilizes VR scans in place of plaster molds) and sunk in West Palm Beach or one of the other tropical destinations 1000 Mermaids hopes to expand to, like the Virgin Islands, Bahamas, and Mexico.