A giant treasure chest was sunk off Pompano Beach. Here’s why

Chris Perkins, South Florida Sun Sentinel

If you’re looking for treasure in South Florida ditch your metal detector, grab your scuba gear, and head to Shipwreck Park in Pompano Beach.

There, about one and a half miles offshore and 126 feet under the water, you’re guaranteed to find a box of gold.

Pirate’s Treasure, a 500-pound aluminum sculpture, was recently sunk and attached to the deck of the Lady Luck, a 324-foot long, 50-foot wide tanker vessel that has been one of Florida’s largest artificial reefs since being submerged in July 2016.

Artist Donald Gialanella is thrilled to have his work displayed at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

“I would say it no doubt ranks No. 1 as far as an unusual venue to have your work exhibited,” said Gialanella, who has had art displayed on Route 66 in Arizona and at The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fl., among other places.

“It’s so other-worldly. It’s like something you see on a nature program.”

Shipwreck Park was established in 2014. It was designed to be an underwater sculpture garden and the Lady Luck is one of 18 submerged shipwrecks in the area. But this was the first time a sculpture was added to an already-submerged ship.

“This is unique,” said Laura Atria, Pompano Beach’s public art program manager. “It’s just cool.”

The Pompano Beach public art committee plans on adding “at least three or four” more underwater sculptures, according to Atria. Projects will likely be added at two-year intervals to help marine life, promote tourism, and further build the city’s scuba diving reputation.

“Pompano is one of the premier places for dives like that,” Atria said.

Pirate’s Treasure, which consists of more than 200 individual pieces of shaped aluminum, was displayed above-ground for a year before it was submerged.

“We wanted people to see it, and not just sink it,” Atria said.

The challenges of creating an outside-then-underwater sculpture were unique. One of the big things with the outside piece was ensuring it was hurricane safe. To that extent, all of Gialanella’s artwork gets certified by a firm in Jacksonville to make sure it can withstand a 140 miles per hour wind.

Another key to the above-ground display was making sure it was strong enough for people to stand on it or jump off of it, which wasn’t a purpose of the sculpture but Gialanella knows the reality of an outdoor piece.

To ensure the piece could withstand the corrosive demands of saltwater Gialanella had to powder coat each part of the sculpture, a process that protects the aluminum and doesn’t produce harmful solvents underwater. Pirate’s Treasure is powder coated in three colors.

Gialanella, who is battling Parkinson’s disease, normally uses steel or stainless steel for his sculptures but that wouldn’t work with this piece because of it being submerged in saltwater. Gialanella also usually welds his sculptures but this time he also had to use some rivets.

“You had to be able to powder coat the pieces individually, then reassemble them,” he said. “And if you’re welding over the powder coating it burns it off. We had to devise a very clever way of assembling it, then disassembling it, powder coating it, and reassembling it together. It was quite a process.”

COVID-19 concerns kept the submergence of Pirate’s Treasure an invitation-only event. But there’s a video, and eventually there will be a full-length documentary. The process took about three hours.

“It was a real eureka moment,” Gialanella said of having his work submerged. “I loved it.”

And even though the piece is underwater, Gialanella isn’t concerned about public access to his work.

“I think more people have seen my work via video and photos on social media and through publicity,” he said, “than actually visit them in the flesh.”