Manatee mural creates controversy in St. Petersburg

Pinellas County

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – An underwater mural featuring manatees is making waves in St. Petersburg.

The mural is located at the St. Petersburg Sailing Center and it’s turning many into an art critic.

Within recent weeks the mural was manifested and St. Petersburg City Councilman Robert Blackmon said he and many constituents are concerned that it shows illegal activity.

“It’s illegal by the FL Marine Sanctuary Act to molest, annoy or disturb a manatee. They’re a protected species. This is essentially depicting illegal activity,” said Blackmon referring to the mural.

Blackmon said the mural also brings up bad memories from 2012.

“Comedy Central did a bit on it and we were the laughing stock of the nation because a woman rode a manatee at Ft. Desoto and was arrested. This mural depicts essentially that act. It was an embarrassing time for us but also an unfortunate act for nature,” Blackmon said.

Blackmon said he loves art, but not something that he said he thinks sends a bad message to residents and tourists. So he wrote to the city with questions and received an e-mail back from the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, Wayne David Atherholt.

In the e-mail, Atherholt said the mural is not of a woman riding a manatee, rather it’s fantasy art of a mermaid hugging a manatee.

“The theme of the mural is mangroves and manatee conservation and that we should love them both with all our heart. The information on the audio tour through Pixel Stix app, explains this. It also explains how, to use the artists words directly, ‘manatees face numerous threats such as boat collisions, habitat loss, and harmful algae blooms’,” Atherhold said.

“I think it’s beautiful…I think it’s beautiful artwork. The St.Pete Yacht club, Sailing Center, and the City of St. Pete support the artwork our local artists are producing,” St. Petersburg Yacht Club Commodore David Mendelblatt said.

Mendelblatt said they show support when it comes to respecting nature. “I agree 100% agree that humans should stay away from manatees and all wildlife….this is a mermaid,” Mendelblatt said.

But Blackmon isn’t buying it, he wants to know who approved the painting and is calling for clarification.

“I’ve gotten the runaround. The Yacht Club says it’s a city thing. The city says it was the Shine Mural Festivals Responsibility…I think it should be amended or at least have a disclaimer put up that this is an illegal activity and that this is an artist depiction,” Blackmon said.

Mendelblatt told 8 On Your Side he wouldn’t be opposed to putting up a sign to clarify the artwork and its meaning.

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April 24 2021 08:00 am

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