Oceans & rivers

Mermaid swimming. Image © Xanthe Rivett

Swimming with mermaids

Once again, I’ve managed to drift into shot with one of the mermaids. 

With all of the unexpected textures and colours jumping out from the coral garden just below me, I’m finding it a little tricky to keep focussed.

Quick smart, I flipper kick my way over to a deeper darker space behind Xanthe and the bulk of photography and dive equipment attached to her.

Nerissa the mermaid glides past us with a casual flick of her powerful tail. From my view, her metallic turquoise scales and long, weightless red hair seem to expertly catch the streams of light that shoot down from the surface.

The lighting must have worked for Xanthe – she gives her model the universal divers' "OK" hand signal and leads us on to a new backdrop.

I can’t believe how lucky I am to be spending a Monday afternoon holding mermaids’ snorkels while they duck and dive for the camera in one of the world’s most spectacular coral reefs.

I’m on an outer ledge of the Great Barrier Reef, with Protect our Coral Sea campaigner and underwater phographer, Xanthe Rivett, ACF’s healthy oceans campaigner, Chris Smyth, and our healthy oceans ambassadors, Nerissa, Aradia and Volitania. 

When dried off and de-tailed, our ambassadors go by Shelley Dunlop, Katie Lazcko and Katy Dawson.

They met at uni, where their shared appreciation for marine life (Katy knows everything there is to know about cuttlefish; Shelley follows sea turtle conservation and Katy is an anemone fan, hence her Nemo-esque tail stripes) grew into a fully-fledged mermaiding obsession.

The three friends spend summer weekends free diving off Melbourne beaches in their tails, which are made from monofins covered by thick waterproof fabric in dramatic colours.

Aradia and Voltania made their tails by hand, while Nerrissa had her tail shipped, ready-made, from the States, where the mermaiding craze has well and truly taken off.   

Chris came across the Melbourne mermaids in a local magazine feature about the trend’s growing emergence here in Australia.

He was struck by how perfectly the mermaids, half human and half fish, represented the close connection Australians have with the ocean.

It’s a connection that we hope will be protected for many generations to come through the establishment of a national marine reserve network later this year.

On contacting the mermaids, we found they were keen supporters of the national marine reserve network and so started a trip up the east coast of Australia, explaining the benefits of the marine reserve network with the help of our colourful new ambassadors, which culminated with the underwater shoot off Cairns.

At each of our sunny stops – Sydney, Brisbane, Mooloolaba and Cairns – the mermaids attracted plenty of attention.

On the beach in Mooloolaba, they were almost overrun by children – boys and girls, infants to teens – as they frolicked in the shallows for local news TV crews and photographers.

While children played with the mermaids, their parents were keen to have a chat with Chris and I about the marine reserve network.

All most all were happy to put their name down in support of the network and have a photo taken with their children and the mermaids to be uploaded as a show of support online.

As Katie told one reporter in Mooloolaba, “Mermaids are much more memorable than say grown ups talking at you, or scuba divers talking at you, or scientists talking at you.”

The mermaids, with their enthusiasm, knowledge and approachability, allowed us to reach out to these families – people who loved the beach and the ocean but were not fully engaged with the progress of the national reserve network, which seemed to pass by as an issue for politicians, bureaucrats and scientists to deal with.

In reality though, this is a conservation achievement for all Australians to celebrate. Once proclaimed in coming months, the national marine reserve network will become the world’s largest.

Areas of Australian bushland and forest and our most significant wetlands have been protected as national parks for hundreds of years and it’s time for oceans protection in Australia to catch up.

The national marine reserve network is expected to be proclaimed in coming months.

To show your support for this historic decision:

Monique Vandaleur is ACF's Communications Adviser for the Healthy Ecosystems Program.

Images © Xanthe Rivett