In May 1983, eleven manmade islands along Biscayne Bay were draped with over 6 million square feet of pink polypropylene fabric. The project, Surrounded Islands, became one of the most iconic images of Miami in the 1980s and did more than just add a splash of color to our waters.
The artists Christo and Jeane-Claude were a husband and wife team known for creating large scale environmental works of art. Christo, who was inspired by Miami’s tropical flair and the flatness and “horizontality” of its terrain, decided on an installation project centered around the islands of Biscayne Bay and the surrounding water.The project began two years earlier in 1981 and involved a team of biologists, ornithologists, mammal experts and marine engineers. Before actual assembly began, a dedicated land and marine crew removed bags of garbage from each island. No one expected 40 tons of trash ranging from old mattresses, refrigerator doors, an abandoned boat and even the proverbial kitchen sink to be carted away.
The project was scheduled for completion in 1982 but was delayed by some controversy from environmentalists who felt that nesting ospreys and manatees would be hurt. However, the massive clean-up effort left the islands in better condition than they were found. Christo’s own safety testing procedures and the need for 10 permits and seven hearings on environmental safeguards delayed things even more but by the spring of 1983, a crew of over 400 workers started attaching the pink plastic fabric, section by section.
Surrounded Islands was finally completed on May 7, 1983 when suddenly gigantic floating skirts sprouted from every major vantage point in Miami. Like huge, pink frangipani flowers blooming out of the water, the installation, which started out at Bakers Haulover Cut, stretched southward to the islands around the Venetian Causeway and was on display for two weeks before being disassembled. While locals remember the project fondly, many are still unaware of how profound the clean-up effort was to our environment or that the equivalent of fifty years of garbage was removed. Today Surrounded Islands is remembered not only as a one of a kind installation project that doubled as a preservation effort but as a living tribute to Miami’s beauty and vibrancy.