Florida swimmer breaks records while collecting trash

Florida swimmer breaks records while collecting trash
Swimmer Merle Liivand wearing a mermaid tail while picking up trash to create awareness on plastic pollution and climate change during a 30 miles journey around Biscayne Bay, Florida, United States, April 15, 2023, credit: Reuters/Marco Bello

Swimmer and Guinness World Record holder Merle Liivand took to the waters of Biscayne Bay in Florida on Saturday for an extraordinary dual mission: to set a new world record and remove trash from the bay.

Swimming with a mono-fin resembling a mermaid’s tail, Liivand embarked on a 30-mile journey around the bay, which she completed in 14 hours and 15 minutes while collecting around 35 pounds of trash.

A rotating group of kayakers accompanied the swimmer, ensuring her safety from boats, providing food and water, and offering assistance in case of emergencies.

“This 35 pounds of trash got picked by me, my kayak, and safety boat…I also know there was more on my fans’ boat who I asked to pick up trash when I couldn’t reach,” Liivand said on Instagram, where she’s known as the EcoMermaid.

Biscayne Bay, full of dolphins, manatees, seagrass, and coral, has faced significant environmental challenges. Despite some improvements in water quality on its north side, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s February 2023 report highlights the ongoing problem of pollutants and the high level of trash threatening wildlife.

Liivand’s extraordinary efforts were driven by her desire to preserve Biscayne Bay. “There are people who want to have this better, and that inspires me…we need to save Biscayne Bay,” she said.

It upset her that even after her efforts to clean up the waters, people still throw plastics on the streets: “You’re seeing people still leaving plastic bottles everywhere and then, of course, it’s going to go [into the bay] and get stuck on the drains. And that’s why the flood is building up, and that’s why the water doesn’t go away. And then it finally starts moving. The plastic cannot float. So, where does it go? To the Biscayne Bay, to the oceans.”

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