Miami-Dade County

1982: Christo wins final permit to wrap islands in pink

This story from the Miami Herald archives ran on Oct. 23, 1982.

The artist Christo got the last permit he needs Friday to surround Biscayne Bay islands with pink plastic mesh in a gigantic outdoor display set for next spring.

The Army Corps of Engineers granted approval after being informed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists that manatees will be able to breath under the plastic fabric.

The biologists ran a test at Sea World on five manatees in a 40- foot-diameter tank covered with the mesh. Christo's 10 Surrounded Islands in North Biscayne Bay will be visible from the causeways and the high-rise buildings along the bay.

The wide bands of polypropylene fabric between the green islands and the blue bay will, Christo said, create an oversized impression of the artist Monet's water lilies.

Opponents said the exhibit will threaten the wildlife that lives in and around the bay, including endangered pelicans, bald eagles and manatees. News of the permit brought threats of lawsuits Friday by two project opponents, animal defender Jack Kassewitz and sports fisherman Jan Maizler.

Each said they would decide whether to go ahead after testing the community for financial support. Marilyn Reed of Friends of the Everglades charged that "the Fish and Wildlife Service has been consistently weak in protecting the environment."

Christo's attorney, Joe Fleming, said the New York artist will continue to work with environmentalists in an attempt to meet all their objections. In the meantime, said Fleming, Christo will proceed with the project.

"There's a lot of work to be done," Fleming said. "It will take months just to weave the fabric."

The March date may be moved back to April, he said. The Corps permit was granted within hours after the agency officially received the approval recommendation from the wildlife service.

The Corps was the last of a string of public agencies, including city, county and state, that had to act before Christo could proceed. The wildlife service recommended that the Corps require that no loose lines be left dangling in the water, that the fabric be kept tight at all times, and that Christo provide boats to patrol the islands the whole time the exhibit is in place.

Christo, who is in Japan and could not be reached for comment, earlier had pledged to do these things.

"We also recommended that if a manatee should be killed that the whole project be aborted immediately," said Dave Smith of the wildlife service.

The experiment that convinced wildlife officials that the polypropylene mesh would do no harm was carried out under FWS supervision by Christo's manatee consultant, Dr. Dan O'Dell, marine scientist at the University of Miami. The manatees were able to get sufficient air when they swam to the surface and bumped their heads against the fabric, reported Stanley Searles of Sea World, a marine attraction near Orlando.

Smith also carried out his own tests by swimming in the Indian River under a 25-foot square of the plastic. He found that he, too, could breathe under the fabric.

"This community does not care what this project will do to the wildlife," Kassewitz said. "All I am hearing is how it will be good publicity."

Maizler, who represents a coalition of opponents, said the project will only benefit Christo financially, to the detriment of the public interest.