Merle Liivand swam in choppy waters off Miami coast to raise awareness about importance of clean oceans
In the Little Mermaid, Ariel sings a whole song about wishing to be part of a world where people get to walk. Merle Liivand, on the other hand, wanted to do the opposite – and now holds the world record for the farthest swim as a mermaid.
Liivand swam 26.22 miles wearing a silicone monofin, in just over 11 hours in choppy waters off the coast of Miami on 7 May.
Billing herself as an “eco mermaid”, Liivand set out to use her accomplishment – the fourth time she has set a new record for monofin swimming – to raise awareness about the importance of clean oceans, according to Guinness World Records.
The record required that Liivand not use her arms: she could only kick with the monofin. Originally from Tallin, Estonia, she told Guinness that she first took up swimming to help her recover from collapsed lungs, the result of auto-immune health problems as a child. She became a competitive ice swimmer and Baltic champion before moving to Florida 11 years ago.
She began subjecting herself to long-distance, open-water swims to advocate against marine pollution, which she described as “the plastic pandemic”. She nearly ingested some microplastics during a practice session in open water, which inspired her to do more for the ocean.
Long-distance swimming with the monofin was her own idea.
“Swimming with the monofin without using my arms is similar to how dolphins and marine animals swim,” Liivand added. “They have a fin and can’t use any arms.”
It also mimics the struggle faced by marine animals who become entangled in plastic bags tossed in waters by polluters, she said.
Before her recent record-setting swim, Liivand had navigated the Bosphorus, the Golden Gate Straits, the Pacific Ocean and the Baltic Sea. But Miami’s sunny Biscayne Bay presented unique perils, such as the potential for overheating and exhaustion.
She trained by waking up at 4am daily for more than a year, and took magnesium and potassium pills to reduce the likelihood of leg cramps. Before the big day, she loaded up on small meals she could easily digest, such as smoothies, baby food and soup.
Along the way, she encountered much of the marine life for which she is trying to raise awareness – including a jellyfish that stung her.
“I … kept telling myself that it was not the time to cry,” she said.
She also collected trash as she swam, handing it up to a friend who followed her in a kayak.
“It’s unfair that we have gotten to the point that fish, dolphins and turtles are surrounded by plastic which ends up in their stomachs,” Liivand said. “I feel that we as humans are next.”
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