This past February, the Palm Beach Post published renderings of Echo Brickell, a 57-story skyscraper planned for Brickell Avenue. The opulent interior looked incredible, particularly the avant-garde, 12,000-gallon shark tank. In the image published by the Post, two large sharks circled a center column. The residential units, according to the newspaper, were going for as much as $18 million.
Four months later, on June 23, Instagram user aroundtheworldpix posted a photo of the same shark tank image. The account has more than 601,000 followers. Suddenly, the public was outraged. Almost a thousand users flooded the comments section, posting “animal cruelty” and “that tank looks really small” and “What if you were in a limited space!”
Thirty-two-year-old Erica Brown saw the Instagram post and thought the outrage should be channeled to actually do something about the planned tank. Later that day, she started an online petition from her home in New Jersey. She owns two cats but has never considered herself an animal rights activist. But her demands to Echo Brickell were simple: “End animal cruelty. Stop plans for construction of the shark tank.”
Once the petition was posted on Change.org, it took off. In a week, it attracted almost 9,000 signatures from Miamians and others as far away as Colombia and Australia. Signers called the tank “inhumane,” “cruel,” and “disgusting.”
“Sharks are animals, not decorations,” Meagan Collins from Miami commented after she signed.
“It’s not right. To keep these wild animals captive like this... would be like asking you to keep your family in a shipping container for the duration of their lives,” Lillian Gabelish from Australia wrote.
Brown tried to reach out to the developers and reason with them. She sent an email to the address posted on Echo Brickell’s contact page, but it bounced back. Each time a user signed the petition, Brown believes that Echo Brickell received an email too. She thinks it overwhelmed their system.
Brown then contacted People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Jenny Haggerty, a campaigner for PETA, wrote back, stressing that no animal should be held captive. “The intended dimensions of Echo Brickell’s planned tank — a 23-foot-by-12-foot habitat — are woefully inadequate and fall short of the minimum size that has been suggested to allow sharks to adopt normal swimming patterns and exhibit normal types of behavior,” she wrote. In a statement sent to New Times, PETA Deputy Counsel Delcianna Winders explained that, in captivity, sharks are “denied the freedom to roam, hunt, and engage in any other natural behavior.” She pointed out that blue sharks swim almost 3,740 miles a year and said it would be unfair to condemn them to “a life of swimming in circles.”
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A week after posting the petition, on July 8, Brown received an email on behalf of the developers. They had planned to house sharks that had outgrown their tanks and, under Florida law, would be destroyed. But they had changed their minds. Instead, more “appropriate” marine life would be placed inside. It would be not a tank, but a “12,000-gallon refuge.”
“We are a progressive company and respect the environment and its inhabitants. Accordingly, we are changing direction and examining alternative marine life that would be a more appropriate fit for our tank and, more importantly, we welcome suggestions from the public to help us make that determination.”
To which PETA responded: “Any animal trapped in a tank will suffer — and will probably die prematurely.”
Principal developer of Property Markets Group, Ryan Shear, says, “We spoke with PETA. Their stance was we should put fake fish in there. We want to put real fish, and we don’t find that to be a problem with most of the community.”