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Fort Lauderdale artists turning models into 1,000 mermaids | Video

On weekends, mermaid Chloe Landazabal can be spotted through the underwater portholes at B Ocean’s Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale, swimming in her shell-bikini top and fishtail. But this summer, you’ll spot Landazabal on the ocean floor, her likeness captured in a sunken mermaid sculpture.

The 21-year-old is one of many local models turned into mermaids by Fort Lauderdale artists Ernest Vasquez and Sierra Rasberry, whose 1,000 Mermaids Project aims to build off the city’s coast an artificial reef park filled with water-nymph sculptures perched on limestone rocks.

“I’m just in awe that my mermaid sculpture will help the environment,” says Landazabal, of Coconut Creek, who performs Fridays and Saturdays in the mermaid shows at the Wreck Bar. “It’s crazy to think you’ll be snorkeling and suddenly see my face 40 feet deep.”

The idea also sounded crazy to Vasquez and Rasberry, who operate the Miami Body Cast studio in Fort Lauderdale’s FAT Village. The 1,000 Mermaids project started as a joke after a friend commissioned the pair to make a sculpture for his yacht. They built a body cast of the friend’s wife and turned it into a mermaid sculpture covered in hexagonal scales and glitter. Before they finished, Vasquez’s client divorced his wife, lost the boat and declined the mermaid.

“I was like, ‘Screw this guy. Let’s just toss it in the ocean,’ ” Vasquez recalls with a laugh. “Then, Sierra hit on the idea: Let’s actually put mermaids in the ocean.”

Six months later, Vasquez and Rasberry have sculpted a dozen mermaids. During this weekend’s Art Fort Lauderdale, an art fair taking place along Fort Lauderdale’s Intracoastal Waterway and New River, the couple will do a live body-casting with a model at a party at the W Fort Lauderdale. The body-cast plaster mold will later be filled with cement for a mermaid sculpture.

Vasquez, by day the general manager of a Fort Lauderdale boat club, already knew that coral polyps grow on limestone surfaces. So the couple plunged into research, meeting with Broward County officials, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Their idea: a sculpture garden of mermaids to lure free-divers and snorkelers away from Fort Lauderdale’s tourist-friendly natural reef systems.

“The mermaid is the symbol of humans and our relationship with the water,” Vasquez says. “People don’t realize the issues we have with the ocean, because we never think to look under the water. By body-casting people, it gives them an environmental connection to the reef.”

And 1,000 mermaids — not one, not 100 — sounded like plenty, Vasquez says. Sculpting from their studio, the pair have so far done live body-casting at November’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show and December’s Riptide Music Festival on Fort Lauderdale beach.

They hope to complete at least 20 sculptures by April, and begin dropping them into the ocean shortly after.

Angel Rovira, a natural resource specialist with the county’s Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division, says summertime is realistic for dropping mermaids into the ocean. Vasquez and Rasberry are close to submitting permits, and Rovira says the county is still finalizing artificial reef designs.

“The advantage of using limestone is that it’s a composite of porous coral reef,” Rovira says. “It’s natural to the environment. This is a very interesting project, and a lot of us are really excited about it.”

The 1,000 Mermaids Project will appear noon-8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26, at Art Fort Lauderdale, embarking noon-8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26, at Bahia Mar Yachting Center, 801 Seabreeze Blvd., and during an afterparty 7 p.m-1 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, in the Living Room at the W Fort Lauderdale, 401 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd. Art Fort Lauderdale admission costs $50-$60 for a one-day ticket, $160-$170 for festival pass, while the W afterparty is free with RSVP. Call 954-361-4998 or go to 1000Mermaids.com and ArtFtLauderdale.com.

pvalys@southflorida.com or 954-356-4364

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