SAND AND SEA
pillaging. To make matters worse, the city started trucking
in sand to enhance the beaches, only to see it washed back to
sea, ultimately covering the wreck and the beautiful reefs.
As time and Mother Nature weakened the reef’s fragile
ecosystem, divers, including Mike Blatus, became concerned
with the damage done by sand pumping. A native of Vero
Beach, Blatus worked in cyber optics, but was better known
as an environmental activist on a mission to protect the reefs.
He was often seen at Vero Beach City Council meetings
armed with aerial photos taken before and after the pumping
and battling fiercely for them to stop the practice. He wanted
the public to understand what damage was being done to the
natural resources beneath the ocean surface.
Blatus was a colorful character and a welcome fixture to
the Vero Beach community. When he wasn’t exploring his
beloved reefs, he could be found riding his bike with his Blue
Front Amazon parrot named Peckerhead on the handlebars.
“Everybody loved Mike,” said Jeannie Burke, Blatus’ sister.
“He was a true conservationist with a deep-seated love of nature.
Even as a child he tried to take care of the environment
by nurturing plants and rescuing lizards, snakes and other
creatures. His green thumb turned every place he lived into a
jungle and he loved the ocean so much that if he could have
grown gills and lived there, he would have.”
Blatus was a master lobster hunter and often came back
after diving all night with the largest bug and the biggest
haul of anyone.
“He lived for the hunt,” Burke said. “He didn’t even like
the taste of lobster so he gave them all away. He just thrived
on the adrenaline rush from the adventure.”
One Fourth of July in the mid ’90s, he and a friend known as
Sailboat Dick took it upon themselves to swim out in the dead
of night and mount an American flag on the wreck’s boiler.
A dedicated group of friends swim
and paddle out to the wreck site
each Fourth of July to erect and
secure Mike’s flag to the ship’s hull.
Mike Blatus enjoying life with his sister Jeannie Burke.
It was done in the spirit of American independence to bring
awareness to the importance of protecting the reefs.
“They loved the reaction from people as they saw a floating
American flag in the middle of the water,” his sister said.
“The flag would eventually get blown away by a nor’easter
or hurricane and the two would race to see who was the first
to put it up the following Fourth of July.” After a year or two
their competition waned and the wreck remained unmarked
for a number of years.
Despite the beautiful light that shone through his gentle
soul, Blatus silently fought the darkness of depression. No
one knows for sure what he was thinking when he swam
out late at night on July 3, 2009, to once again place the flag
on his beloved wreck. Less than two weeks later, he took his
“I often think that it was his final environmentalist act to
save the reef he tried to protect his entire life,” Burke lamented.>>