By Tiffany Duong and Jim McCarthy

“Tattoos 4 Corals” is not a phrase you hear every day, but for two Keys tattoo shops and one deserving non-profit, that was what December was all about.

Avid diver and tattoo artist Cassandra Clark of South of Heaven Tattoo Shop in Key Largo joined forces with Allen Mertsock and Tony Napoli of Doc’s Tattooz in Marathon to raise funds for I.CARE, a local nonprofit aimed at restoring Islamorada’s reefs

Both shops had “flash sheet” tattoos available to customers, often of favorite and whimsical reef critters. Fifty percent of proceeds from such tattoos were donated to I.CARE for the entire month of December, and both shops ended up raising $3,350.

“I am so proud to announce our first #tattoos4corals event was a huge success,” Clark announced on Facebook with the grand total raised. “Together we can rebuild and restore our coral reefs as a community.”

Clark told the Weekly she drew 17 tattoos, at a cost ranging from $100 to $400. From reef scenes to whale sharks, she drew a wide variety of designs on locals and tourists. 

“I had people who drove up from Key West. I had people who came from Miami and Homestead. It was a very vast array of people who were locals, tourists and those who even lived on the mainland and heard about it,” she said. 

All-in-all, Clark said the fundraiser sends a positive message throughout the community that tattoo artists are helping to restore the reef. 

“A lot of people who have come in and seen it said, ‘It’s a great idea, what can I do to help?’” she said.

Mertsock echoed Clark’s sentiments, saying, “It went really good. Great actually. We had a lot of people calling and it worked.” 

The Doc’s owner estimated that his shop did 12 pieces for the fundraising effort, with his favorite being a shark above coral holding a sign saying “I love humans” that Napoli designed for a long-time customer. Lighthouses, a mainstay of life on the water in the Keys, were also really popular, as were octopus tentacles wrapped around a compass and flowers. 

Kylie Smith, lead scientist and co-founder at I.CARE, was “blown away” by  everyone who got a tattoo to support her organization, including many local residents and business owners she’d never met. 

“We are so grateful to everyone that participated, especially the talented artists that donated 50% of their profits to support us,” she said. “We know this is a challenging time for so many and we are grateful for the continued support.”

The funds will jumpstart conservation actions and careers, provide necessary supplies for transplanting corals and supporting I.CARE’s new intern program, Smith said. The next step for the non-profit is to finalize a transplanting schedule with local dive shops, currently planned for mid-March.

Smith emphasized how the community effort showcases just how everything and everyone is connected. 

“We are doing this work to restore the reef community, the work is being done by members of this community, and the work will help support future generations of the Islamorada community. We are all connected to the reef, directly or indirectly, and it has been amazing to have so much support for these restoration efforts. It gives me so much hope for our future.”

“I would totally do a tattoo benefit again. We’re already talking about it and tossing ideas around,” Mertsock told the Weekly. “We all should make sure we take care of the land that takes care of us and remember why we’re down here in the Keys. People should help all these places that are trying to conserve the beauty of nature.”

Those wishing to visit South of Heaven for a tattoo to support I.CARE can stop in and ask. 

“We’re more than willing to do it,” Clark said. 

Along with tattoos she drew for I.CARE, sales from jewelry she crafted are also going to support the reef effort. Through Jellyfish Daydreams Art, Clark raised just over $207.For more information on I.CARE or to participate and donate, visit icareaboutcoral.org.

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