Merle Liivand is a marine conservationist who wants to raise awareness about ocean plastic pollution.
Professional swimmer Merle Liivand has pocketed a rare world record after swimming the longest distance wearing a monofin or the mermaid fin. Liivand wasn't swimming for the record alone but rather eclipsing the record to raise awareness about ocean plastic pollution. Liivand, who's also a marine conservationist, swam an astonishing 26.22-mile off the coast of Miami Beach in just 11 hours and 54 minutes on May 7, according to the Guinness World Records. Her love of water and swimming is inspired by her personal circumstances. "I was born with auto-immune health problems, and I started swimming because my lungs collapsed," said the "Eco-Mermaid," adding that she wants to help protect the Earth. "Today, my intention is to fight for Mother Earth's lungs."
"Swimming with the monofin without using my arms is similar to how dolphins and marine animals swim," said the swimmer. "They have a fin and can't use any arms." Liivand, who is originally from Estonia, has set the record for the farthest swim with a "mermaid" fin three times before this. She first set the record in 2019 with a 6.2-mile swim off Redondo Beach, California, before setting a new record in 2020 with a 12.8-mile swim off South Point Park Pier in Miami. She then broke the record again on April 17, 2021, with a swim of 18.6 miles near Miami Beach. The record is now her 26.22-mile swim. Liivand has been setting these records to shine a light on marine pollution.
“Using a fin sends the world a bigger message. 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, and I feel that we as humans are next,” she said. Even as she swam for the record, Liivand picked up various pieces of trash from the water and lobbed it into the kayak paddling alongside her. The professional swimmer said she gets "mad" when she sees trash in the water. "At the end of the day this isn't just about a record," said Liivand. "It's about helping the community and the world."
She's hoping more people wake up to how plastics and microplastics are impacting the lives of marine animals. "Humans should take a moment to understand that we need to use less plastic or make sure that we clean up any trash on the ground," she said. "We need to make sure that we're all healthy. Healthy humans mean a healthy planet."
Liivand has swum in the waters of the Bosporus and Golden Gate Straits, the Pacific Ocean, and the Baltic Sea, but her swim in Biscayne Bay proved very grueling. Being exposed to the sun can lead to overheating and exhaustion, especially when trying to cover long distances. Swimming in warm waters also increases internal body temperatures, often leading to dehydration. Liivand has been preparing for the swim for more than a year. She woke up at 4 a.m. every day and trained by exposing herself to the same conditions she anticipated on the day of her swim. The training helped elevate her heart rate and prepare her body mentally and physically for the swim. “My last record was 30 km (18.6 miles) and Mother Earth really challenged me. I swam in very difficult conditions and knew that if I swam in the bay this time, there wouldn’t be a crazy current,” said Liivand. Speaking of her training, she said, “Over 13 months, I really changed my training. I planked for 50 minutes 3 times per week, attended hot yoga, focused on my breathing and nutrition, and connected with myself."