Little Havana has its colorful roosters. And Coconut Grove has its colorful peacocks, real and artistic.
Now, the Town of Surfside will have its turtles.
The “Tales of the Surfside Turtles” public art project features 18 sculptures of loggerhead turtles that have been painted in bright colors and in whimsical themes by South Florida artists, including Marcie Ziv, mural artist Mark Vose, Marcy Grosso and Paula Turk. The fiberglass sculptures — each measuring 5 feet high with a 4-foot flipper span — will be placed in spots throughout the town for more than a year.
Some of the scenes the artists created include beachscapes, a mermaid, and a giant butterfly.
“There are some real beauties here,” said Duncan E. Tavares, Surfside’s tourist bureau director. The exhibit is sponsored by the Town of Surfside Tourist Board.
Tavares said most of the turtles will be located in or near the business district in the northern part of town between 93rd and 96th Streets and between Collins and Harding Avenues.
“There will be one on every corner,” he said.
Tavares said that the idea for the turtle sculptures originated after he read an article about Heather Bettner, who is director of the Coconut Grove Peacock Tour art project and president of Prince Media Development, a local advertising and event marketing firm.
“She helped put together the tour in the Grove in 2010, so I contacted her and we discussed the possibility of public art in town,” Tavares said.
Tavares and Bettner discussed several ideas but settled on loggerhead turtles because “they just happen to nest along Surfside’s beaches. And they’re a threatened species. It was the right idea,” Tavares said.
Loggerhead sea turtles spend most of their lives in the open ocean and in shallow coastal waters and can be found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans and in the Mediterranean Sea. They rarely come ashore, except to construct nests and lay eggs. Loggerheads deaths too often are caused by untended fishing gear or they may suffocate if trapped in fishing trawls. Loss of suitable nesting beaches and the introduction of exotic predators have also taken a toll on loggerhead populations. Because the turtles roam vast areas of ocean and critical nesting beaches are scattered across several countries, they are protected by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
But the turtles — the sculptured ones — may also be in danger due to vandalism and theft. Aware of the outright destruction of some of the Pink Snails three years ago in Miami Beach after an Art Basel exhibition and the defacing of other public art projects, Surfside will take some steps to limit vandalism.
“They’re in highly visible places,” Tavares said of the turtles. “There’s no real guarantee, but they’ll be secured as best as possible.”
During the exhibit, the town will promote a loggerhead turtle awareness campaign. Already, children from the Ruth K. Board Bay Harbor K - 8 Center are benefitting from the campaign. The school held an art auction and sale at the Surfside Community Center in conjunction with the opening of the exhibit two weeks ago. Several children participated in painting a turtle, which the school will keep. The school also plans a curriculum based on the turtles. Town residents also got a chance to see all 18 completed sculptures during the opening weekend before they were placed throughout town.
When asked if he has a favorite turtle, Tavares said it is whichever one he looks at.
“When you see them, your favorite changes,” he said. “They’re so unique. You fall in love with them.”