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SOUTH PONTE VEDRA, Fla. -- Juan Ponce de Leon's sword couldn't fend off the vandals who recently twisted it at the GTM Research Reserve in South Ponte Vedra.

The bronze statue of the Spanish explorer greets visitors who park at the GTM Research Reserve and walk to the beach.

"It's sad people can't respect something that was meant to be here to show and remember how this place was found," Carly Barber said as she walked to the beach.

Alicia Zeluff is the Facilities Specialist at the GTM Research Reserve. She said staff does not know who the vandals are or when they struck.

"I would say it's vandalism. It could've seriously been damaged," she noted. "It was brought to our attention last weekend I believe."

Cameras in the parking lot may have caught the vandals.

"We're going to be reviewing footage to see if we can find out who may have vandalized the statue," Zeluff said.

She added that the state may press charges against the person or persons responsible for the vandalism.

The statue of Ponce de Leon hasn't been there long. It was unveiled April 2013 during Florida's 500th celebration to mark Ponce de Leon's discovery of Florida.

"It's commemorating one of the navigational readings taken just off the coastline here," Zeluff explained.

A St. Augustine woman donated the statue and a local group built the pedestal.

During the day Wednesday, someone from that group repaired the sword.

This is the third statue in a month to be vandalized in northeast Florida. A Poseidon statue in Fernandina Beach was broken and a Venus de Milo statue at the European Village in Flagler County was knocked over and broken.

Referring to the Ponce de Leon statue, Zeluff said, "It's just disappointing because it's here for the community to enjoy."

It's also a place for beachgoers to take a moment and remember the history that happened at this very place.

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