By Jane Bartnett
A large, original sea-turtle sculpture formed from aluminum now graces the main entrance to Siesta Beach.
Unveiled during a morning ceremony on April 17, the work of art took a year and a half to design and create. The result of a joint partnership between Sarasota County and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the sculpture was created in the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Koski Center, a state-of-the-art scenic production facility.
Asolo master designer Jeff Dean had the lead role. “We had a team of six designers, welders, carpenters, artists and metal workers,” he said. “It was a very difficult and challenging design.”
The mission was to use art as a way to educate the public — to “remind beachgoers of the need to protect our natural environment and to promote the benefits of reducing and recycling waste that endangers the life of marine animals once it makes its way into the waters of the Gulf,” Dean said.
Added Jon Thaxton, senior vice president for Community Investment at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, “We wanted to engage the artistic community and the public in an interactive way.”
Several small doors on the side of the sculpture open, allowing the artwork to double as a receptacle for displaying recyclables.
During the event, volunteers from Keep Sarasota County Beautiful deposited into the sculpture the plastic bottles and other recyclable waste that they had found during a beach clean-up earlier in the morning. In the near future, the doors will be sealed and the majestic sculpture will serve as a permanent work of art and a continuing reminder of the community’s commitment to environmental sustainability.
“The Gulf of Mexico now has the highest concentration of plastics in the world. There is not another issue that impacts this community more than the health of our waterways,” Thaxton said.
The impact plastic pollution is having on Gulf marine life is dramatic. Scientists from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration have reported that the 2019 death of a baleen whale, now believed to be a member of a newly discovered Gulf species called Rice’s whale with numbers less than 100, was due to a large piece of sharp plastic that the whale ingested.
Plastic bottles, bags, cigarette buts and other bits of debris that are harmful to manatees, turtles, dolphins, as well as Gulf Coast birds and fish of all varieties concern marine scientists who place great urgency on increasing public awareness and the need to recycle.
“Thankfully, the plastic and trash that we picked up today will not end up in these waters,” said Candi Messerschmidt, a member of the advisory board for Keep Sarasota County Beautiful.
“Water quality is crucial to our way of life here in Sarasota County, for our region, and for our entire state,” said Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department.
Added department employee Shawn Yeager, “When we visit our beautiful beaches, remember that famous quote and leave nothing behind but footprints.”