PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Dozens of mermaids are banding together to save the ocean, one recyclable at a time.
Oregon Mermaids is a Portland-based organization that works to raise awareness about ocean conservation. Its members get together throughout the year to hold educational events sprinkled with a healthy dose of whimsy.
On Saturday, the mermaids will hold their first official Merfest at Director Park in downtown Portland.
Collette Remsen-Harvey founded Oregon Mermaids and has been participating in arts and culture programs at Director Park since 2011.
The events attracted more and more attention with each passing year until Collette realized it was time to take things to the next level.
“We decided just to bring the whole community together and teach on conservation and have vendors and fun,” Collette said.
With the support of her 73 volunteer mermaids, Collette has organized a one-day family-friendly event that will feature entertainment and educational, interactive performances.
The mermaids will teach those who attend about alternatives to plastic and water conservation, with a special focus on the role youth play in our oceans’ future.
“If you get them young and instill that sense in them, they’re going to remember that,” Collette said. “Sometimes adults are set in their ways but they want to learn and they are learning and they’re getting it and their kids are on board with it.”
Pirates (including Jack Sparrow) will saunter about Director Park on Saturday, kids can watch puppet shows and do crafts and there will also be ocean-themed yoga. “The Little Mermaid” villain Ursula is rumored to make an appearance, as well.
There will be items for sale at Merfest, including kid-sized fins and 4Ocean bracelets. Each $20 bracelet funds the removal of a pound of trash from the ocean.
Thirty different vendors will also be at the event, including Dragon Theater, Happy Mermaid, Home Depot and even a Tropical Snow food truck.
Metro will be there, too, to teach about recycling.
“I have all these different people who usually wouldn’t hang out together all there for one reason — so that’s pretty amazing,” Collette said.
While Saturday’s event will feature an array of vendors, they are united in Collette’s mission to teach ocean conservation and waste reduction.
Collette’s passion for conservation began after a trip to the beach where she noticed plastic litter and learned about the toll it was taking on marine wildlife.
“Turtles eating plastic and dying or getting wrapped up in it and birds eating thread — and I thought, nobody is doing anything,” Collette said. “We know about this problem but back then, you never really saw a solution.
She started by joining beach cleanups organized by SOLVE Oregon. The idea to intertwine mermaids and environmental education came after she dressed up as a mermaid at the Portland Aquarium.
“I did it on a bet,” Collette said. “Never planned on being a mermaid — and the kids just really liked it, so I started teaching on conservation and then Girl Scouts approached me.”
Collette started teaching at Girl Scouts. From there, she got involved with the programs at Director Park.
“It exploded. I never planned on it to get this big,” Collette said. “I stay in it because of the conservation piece and then — it’s awesome, it’s rewarding.”
The Oregon Mermaids group doesn’t book birthday parties or big corporate events, as other mermaid-themed groups do elsewhere in the country. Instead, its members remain focused on their core mission of education and participate on a volunteer basis. Collette herself has a fulltime job that doesn’t involve wearing a mermaid tail.
So for events like Saturday’s Merfest, Collette relies on booking enough vendors to cover costs. The event is free to attend and Collette hopes to keep it that way.
“It’s a valuable festival with a meaning and I don’t want anyone to not be able to attend,” she said.
As for joining Oregon Mermaids, Collette says all are welcome.
“I don’t care what shape, size or age you are — let’s go have fun.”