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At the 'Merlympics,' meet a desert mermaid from Utah who's all about saving water

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This weekend was the Merlympics in Switzerland. That is the Mermaid Olympics. People dress up in big fish tails and compete in swimming events, including elegance and speed. That sounds so fun. But the event is also about getting people to think about their environmental impact. Well, a desert mermaid from Utah participated, so KUER's Ciara Hulet joined her as she prepared for competition.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

CIARA HULET, BYLINE: Mia Sim jumps in a pool in Lehi, Utah, with her legs fully covered in a white, red and gold mermaid tail. She's a 22-year-old who makes a living performing as a mermaid. She shows off a twist underwater.

MIA SIM: OK, barrel roll.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

SIM: This is a legit sport. I've been a competitive cheerleader, dancer and racecar stuff, and this is the most strenuous physically.

HULET: Part of the Swiss Merlympics is raising awareness about marine conservation. As a mermaid in landlocked Utah, Sim focuses on water supply. Utah does have the Great Salt Lake, but lately it's been shrinking a lot.

SIM: For mermaids, we are labeled as caretakers of the sea, so our goal is to improve anything water-related.

HULET: When Sim gets hired to perform as a mermaid, she always tries to talk about water conservation. Her tail is a great starting point, especially for children.

SIM: So it's teaching that curiosity. And that's easier with a character like a mermaid or Mickey Mouse or other things because it's now suddenly enticing.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

HULET: But can a mermaid really make a difference? Northwestern University professor Tracy Davis researches performance activism.

TRACY DAVIS: Performance is integral to all activist movements.

HULET: Davis wrote a paper on meractivism (ph). She says some people might feel something when looking at them.

DAVIS: And that can help us key into the ecological messages that they connect with their work.

HULET: She says there's the chance, though, it just stops at, wow, that's a cool picture. Davis does say one mermaid video got millions of views. It's hard to say if those views actually translated into change, but...

DAVIS: It's a mammoth task to try to reverse the damages that we've wrought. Why not try everything, right?

HULET: Mia Sim says her water conservation work as a mermaid really has made a difference. She's invited people she's met at events to take part in conservation projects.

SIM: And they've actually come, and they get to say hi, and we get to continue these conversations. Oh, my gosh, you have legs now. What happened?

HULET: For NPR News, I'm Ciara Hulet in Lehi, Utah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LONDON MUSIC WORKS' "UNDER THE SEA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ciara Hulet
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