Devoted to the sea

Renate Herberger headed to Mexico and Costa Rica for long-distance swims

North Saanich’s Renate Herberger is preparing to leave on her annual trip to Mexico and Costa Rica to long-distance swim in order to raise awareness for the world’s oceans.

The Saanich Peninsula’s very own mermaid is headed south once again this month to raise awareness for the world’s oceans.

Renate Herberger, a long-distance swimmer and ocean activist, has been swimming to protect the sea and its creatures for many years.

This year will mark her fourth swim in Mexico and her seventh in Costa Rica and Herberger said she’s looking forward to getting into the water.

“One of the reasons I love to swim down there is because the water is warm and lovely,” Herberger explained, adding that she swims in the Saanich Inlet locally during the summer but otherwise the waters around here are too cold.

Herberger’s love for long distance swimming goes hand in hand with her desire to spread awareness about what’s going on in world’s oceans.

Over the last few years Herberger has noticed the decline in coral on her swim routes, as well as other indications of an unbalanced ocean like red tide, which can be caused by increased nutrient loading from human activities. These sorts of things, says Herberger, are troubling and indicate the world’s oceans are in jeopardy.

“Our oceans are sick and dying due to our neglect,” said Herberger. “I do what I do because I feel the need to tell people about what is going on in our oceans and what we can do about it. The oceans are our lifeblood.”

But, Herberger said, among the bad things she sees during her swims, there is some good coming out of her efforts.

“This year Costa Rica banned shrimp trawling which has a huge impact on hundreds of marine species because of the huge percentage of by catch caught during shrimping,” explained Herberger.

“I spoke to kids in schools about this for a few years and taught them about by catch and how it was affecting our oceans. It will be incredibly rewarding to be able to go back to the kids and say ‘look, we did it.’”

Herberger spends around four months each year travelling the coast of Mexico and Costa Rica, swimming and speaking at schools about the ocean.

“Part of my teaching aims to educate people on seafood, what’s bad and what’s good to eat, things like plastic water bottles and plastic packaging which are polluting our oceans and also things like the use of pesticides on crops which run off into the ocean. I try to connect the dots for everyone between the things we consume and do on the land that in turn effect our oceans,” she said.

Herberger is also swimming this year in memory of her son Silvan Herberger who died in 2010.

“Swimming is a wonderful method of grief relief for me,” she added.

Herberger said she’s happy to generate awareness through her swims and isn’t looking for any sort of documentation of her almost 6,000 kilometres she’s swam.

“I’m not looking for any type of Guiness Book of World Records type thing. I do it because it gives me joy and it helps raise awareness for our oceans. To me it’s about the humility of going into the ocean for eight hours and surrendering yourself to it,” she said, adding that she swims according to her own rules.

“I mean, no one else is doing what I’m doing so I figure I get to make my own rules,” she laughed, adding that she tries always to swim with the strong coastal currents and often wears fins and a snorkelling mask to make her swims more comfortable.

Herberger leaves on Oct. 29 for the first part of her journey which takes her to the Baja Peninsula of Mexico where she will swim from Loreto to La Paz.

During the Costa Rica leg, she plans to swim along the Pacific Coast from the Panama to the Nicaragua border.

For more information on Herberger’s work or to donate to the cause visit www.costaricamermaid.net, email renatemermaid@gmail.com or call 250-656-1312.