What Would A Real Mermaid Think of the Way We Treat Our Oceans? We Asked One.
by Ryan Schleeter
October 28, 2015
“What I want to do is inspire radical creativity — that’s what’s needed here. Fantasy and imagination can be the source of solutions.”
Photo credits: Evan Malcolm (center), Shawn Heinrichs (left and right). Click to enlarge.
OK, so “real” mermaid might be an overstatement, but Hannah Fraser is probably the closest thing there is.
For more than a decade, she’s been a professional mermaid performance artist, diver and activist. And right now, she’s got a big problem with the way Chicken of the Sea is exploiting our oceans. We sat down with her to learn more about why she’s stepping up as an ocean advocate, and how mer-people and landlubbers alike can join her.
You’re a professional mermaid for a reason — you care about our oceans. Explain that for us.
Hannah: I have always been totally obsessed with mermaids. I just love the feeling of flying weightless through this gorgeous underwater environment.
My career started off with a love of creating art featuring mermaids, and then I became my art. In enjoying this wonderful mermaid lifestyle, I started to see the degradation of the beaches, the loss of coral reefs I had visited, pollution and rubbish in the ocean. I got to a point where I said, ‘I can’t just enjoy this, it’s going to disappear, I have to take action and be a spokesperson for the ocean so our children can enjoy it and have as much fun as I have.’
As a vegetarian, you already don’t eat fish. Why do you think it’s still important to advocate for a sustainable, ethical tuna industry?
Hannah: I don’t personally support any fishing regardless of how sustainable it is. But Chicken of the Sea using a mermaid to promote their fishing seems ironic to me when their practices are obviously not sustainable.
Most people on the planet are not vegetarian and aren’t able or ready to take that step yet. The most logical — and to me, very necessary — step is to make everything sustainable so we’re not killing off the entire planet’s ecosystems with what we’re eating. If we can make the systems more sustainable, we can have responsible and healthy choices.
You’ve said that “a mermaid’s gift is to inspire people to rekindle their relationship to nature and a way to communicate the environmental issues that face us.” Tell us more about your own relationship to nature.
Hannah: To me the mermaid is a visual representation of nature and humans combined. I think there’s some kind of trigger for people when they see that, and there’s an underlying love of this magical image.
When I first got into ocean activism, I just wanted to tell everyone about all the terrible things happening, all the time. People around me — while they appreciated my efforts — they didn’t really want to look at it. It’s a hard world to live in, and what we’d rather do is try to find beauty, love and happiness. So I had to figure how to turn these hard lessons and challenges that we’re facing into beauty that inspires people to action.
Images of inspiration and connection have been much more successful than hitting people over the head with guilt and shame, and they’ve done just as much to wake people up to the issues.
Hannah joins Greenpeace activists at Chicken of the Sea's San Diego headquarters to spread the word about sustainable tuna and demand change from company leaders. Photos by Sandy Huffaker Jr. / Greenpeace.
That’s a really unique way of combining art and activism. Why do you think the two go together so well?
Hannah: Art is something that, across the board, speaks to people beyond language or culture. All of these barriers that we put up between humanity — art gets past that and doesn’t need to explain itself, it just is.
When you combine art with a passionate purpose, I think it’s one of the strongest forms of media out there to create positive change.
There’s a lot of risk involved in so many things you do as an activist and performer — how do you move past those risks?
Hannah: If you are lucky enough to have a voice that people listen to, you’re obligated to do whatever you can to use that voice for positive change. I don’t really see it as a choice, more as a blessing and a gift to be able to stand up and have my voice heard.
It’s just what I do.
I hope that by seeing a real-life mermaid, people will connect that vision to what is really happening in the ocean. I hope they’ll start to see themselves as part of that symbiotic relationship rather than it being this very divorced idea — a little icon on a tin from the supermarket.
What I want to do is inspire radical creativity — that’s what’s needed here. Fantasy and imagination can be the source of solutions.