North Saanich ‘mermaid’ swims to raise ocean awareness

Renate Herberger is in Mexico this month to swim in support of marine sanctuaries.

Renate Herberger dances at Island View Beach. Herberger swims to raise awareness of the fight to make the Saanich Inlet a Marine Protected Area.

North Saanich resident and marine activist Renate Herberger has swam a total of 7,531 kilometres in the nine seasons she’s gone to both Costa Rica and Mexico, swimming in support of marine sanctuaries.

“I do these things independently except for the swim in February that will be organized by an organization in the Caribbean, that’ll be somewhere around the island of Montserrat …” she said.

Swimming the length of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Herberger’s first formal official swim was in 2007 there. She flew from Victoria and swam, crossing the Golfo Dulce, which drew lots of media attention.

Herberger chose to go to Costa Rica, as a close friend of hers raved about the country. Herberger was, at the time, supposed to complete a 10 kilometre swim from Cozumel to Cancun, which got cancelled. So she turned to Googling other swims she could do and Cost Rica came up, so she took the plunge.

A Costa Rican environmental activist group then approached Herberger after learning about her interests, sparking her decision to swim for marine sanctuaries.

“It’s really to make people understand half of the air you breathe comes from the ocean,” she said.

Swimming for the awareness of marine sanctuaries, Herberger says she wants more of the world’s oceans in marine permanent protection, or in other words Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). She especially wants that done right here for the Saanich Inlet.

“If our Saanich Inlet right now was a Marine Protected Area we wouldn’t be battling Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) because they couldn’t come here,” she said.

She believes the Saanich Inlet should already be a MPA and that it needs to have that status immediately.

“A Marine Protected Area means leave it alone, don’t interfere.”

And so she keeps on swimming, raising awareness for the plight of oceans.

Having completed her Costa Rica swims, swimming the whole coast from the south to the north seven times, she began taking on Mexico in 2010. This year will mark Herberger’s seventh time for the Baja swim in a different sector.

She said the swim depends on what supports are in place and if she can find a local boater who will follow her and help guide her along the way.

Her swims have ranged in the Baja area from La Paz to Cabo San Lucas, Loreto to La Paz and all the islands in between Loreto and La Paz.

“It’s to open the doors to go into publicity and go into schools so I can talk to kids about their impact, how their every day actions make a difference,” she said.

Herberger leaves this month to begin her Baja swim. Her journey was pushed back an extra month due to a serious car accident she was in mid-October.

This year, the boat support will take her to his little town called Bahia de los Muertos, known to many as Bay of the Dead.

This will be her start point. Her route goes around an island called Jaques Cousteau, following the coast. The rest, she will plan out, as she’s trying to get another boat support to repeat the Loreto to La Paz route, which took her just over two weeks of swimming last year.

Along the way, Herberger will camp every night, pitching her tent while the support crew sleeps on the boat.

Herberger, originally from Germany, has always been into swimming. From a really young age, she lived next to a quarry, and if she ever had troubles, she would go to the quarry and swim there.

“It was always my sanctuary,” she said.

This will be Herberger’s last Mexico swim and she will begin looking ahead to what comes next.