Photo by Tiffany Wu, Staff Photographer
The University of California, Santa Barbara chapter of Save the Mermaids is officially registered, making it the first college chapter of the environmental organization in the country. Save the Mermaids is a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit that focuses on two aspects of ocean conservation: education and exploration.
Here at UCSB, Kriste Josephson, Stefani Henderson, and Sophie Wilson lead a staff of about 15 students who act as “ambassadors to the sea.” Their activities span from educating children on the perils of plastic waste to trips to the Channel Islands to beach clean ups.
The goal of Save the Mermaids, according to their website, is to “inspire others to use less and waste less in a fun and creative way.”
Their emphasis is to focus on patterns in daily life that can be altered and encourage people to make more sustainable choices. This includes aversion to single-use plastic, such as utensils in restaurants, plastic water bottles, and grocery bags. There are already many groups dedicated to the cause, but Save the Mermaids adds a “fun, sparkly twist” with the adoption of the mermaid identity, said Josephson, a third-year art history and Chinese double major.
The UCSB chapter formed organically over a shared passion for the ocean. Attracted to the integrative nature of their process, Josephson has worked with Save the Mermaids for two years already and became passionate about the cause. “It wasn’t just about donating and letting someone else do the work,” she said. She explained that a huge part of the organization is education, being preventive and “starting from the source.”
This accessibility to making a difference is what plays a role in attracting students. The “mermaid” part attracts the type of people who have an existing passion for the ocean, and the social dynamic makes the work enjoyable. Josephson said, “Go out and do the stuff you like to do anyways!”
Henderson grew up in Santa Barbara, always close to the water. She describes the litter as inescapable, and the fact that the pollution is completely preventative only worsens it. This includes hikes in the mountains nearby—when the group goes to the trails, they pick up what they find to prevent the trash from ending up in the water. One of the worst types, they explained, is cigarette butts. At a cleanup last weekend, Wilson and her group collected 442 along just one block. While disheartening, they describe the feat as inspiring as well, for the effects of their efforts are even more observable.
A critical part of the issue they want to bring to light is the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. This disconnect is detrimental; It’s easy not to think of where a red solo cup ends up after the beer is gone and the cup is tossed away. However, it can then travel along the oceanic currents to a gargantuan trash gyre. According to the website, there is one between the Hawaiian islands and our coast that is twice the size of Texas and that weighs over 3.5 million tons. Save the Mermaids aims to educate and persuade people to change their ways and to put an end to such destructive collections. “Waste is a design flaw,” their website says.
The UCSB club has been a year in the making and was finally registered last quarter. In the last four to six weeks, there has been an outpouring of support and registrations for new members. There is at least one cleanup each week, as well as a host of other activities and gatherings. They hope to inspire action in people once they are exposed to what the ocean has to offer—particularly those who don’t usually venture into the water—through activities such as paddle boarding, kayaking, trips, and other outdoor activities. This atmosphere of passion and enthusiasm makes the experience enjoyable and motivating, said Wilson, a recent UCSB graduate and environmental science major.
With this new support there are many goals and collaborations underway for the near future. Next quarter, Save the Mermaids plans to partner with the club Plastic Solutions for a “Plastic Free UCSB” campaign. They hope to work with Adopt-a-Block at Deltopia and are in contact with local businesses regarding funding and practicing “mermaid-approved” activities. The Lucidity music festival at Lake Cachuma shares these values and works to be waste-free, and has a partnership with Save the Mermaids as well.
This shift towards a sustainable lifestyle and habit is nothing people here haven’t heard of, but Save the Mermaids hopes to go about it in a novel way; armed with preventative education and a social element, they want to help community members raise standards to the point there is a collective agreement not to be a part of this huge problem.
“How do you get people motivated? You get their ego involved,” said Henderson, a recent global studies graduate. “I bring my glass bottle or reusable cup to social situations and people ask questions.