‘Mermaid’ sets out to swim Pacific coast

Posted: 01/11/2012 in all marine news

Clayton R. Norman – 

“I know in that moment when the bubbles from my fall into the ocean surround me, and I stretch out to take my first strokes, that there is a transformation in me,” said Renate Herberger.

At age 56, Herberger is swimming the length of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast – approximately 1,011 kilometers – from the Panamanian border to Nicaragua.

It is a pilgrimage to transform not only herself, she hopes, but also the way others view our imperiled oceans.

This year will be the fifth time Herberger, a German who lives in Vancouver, Canada, has made the swim to raise awareness about the fragile state of marine resources around the world.

Each year in Costa Rica, she said, she sees evidence of ocean life fading due to human activity.

“The loss of corals in Costa Rica is really massive,” Herberger said a few days before she started swimming on Thursday.

“In areas where four years ago there were beautiful, vibrant corals in Costa Rican waters, now those corals are gone.”

She calls herself a mermaid, a term whose mystical connotations she embraces, but not without a very practical sensibility.

“To be a mermaid means to be an ambassador for the ocean and to speak on behalf of the ocean,” she said.

“The mermaid’s ways are through magic, mystery and charm.” Herberger is an educator, a dance instructor and lecturer about ocean life.

The mermaid title helps her connect with particularly crucial audiences – children. “I’m a motherly mermaid,” she said. “At 56, I’m not the ‘Little Mermaid’ at all.”

Herberger took to long-distance swimming after a knee injury in 2005 left her with a massive thrombosis that blocked an artery in her leg.

Swimming alleviates the symptoms of her injury and, she found, gives her something more.

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