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Life Arts    H3'ed 8/30/18

The Messenger and the Mermaid

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Whale Shark on Sanibel Beach July 22, 2018
Whale Shark on Sanibel Beach July 22, 2018
(Image by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission)
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In August, Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency due to an extraordinary bloom of toxic algae. Freshwater is contaminated with Cyanobacteria (Blue Green algae) and the Gulf of Mexico with K. brevis (red tide) that has been killing sea life including dolphins, sharks, rays, manatees and a 26 foot Whale Shark, a species never before seen in the waters where it washed ashore. As of August 27 Sarasota County collected165 tons of poisoned sea life and Lee County 1472 tons. Fingers are pointing everywhere. Politicians, mining, sugar interests, poor planning by the Army Corps of Engineers, leaky septic systems, and the tourism industry are only a few of the culprits.

A local issue now has national implications. The fate of the Governor's office and a Senate race hang in the balance as aggrieved citizens vow to "vote water, not party." Anger over red tide might flip the state blue, and national media is finally taking notice of the political reality.

If the water crisis continues and the air along canals and beaches becomes increasingly toxic, Florida faces the real possibility of becoming uninhabitable. Polluted freshwaters are found throughout Florida and especially in the southern half of the peninsula. What is left of the Everglades is dying.

Catastrophe frees the imagination to wonder, and sometimes a Messenger appears with a warning. And sometimes the Messenger has an avenging angel.

Stranded Mermaid
Stranded Mermaid
(Image by Georgianne Nienaber)
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The Messenger was one of 300 eggs inside his mother. He was the first of the pups to hatch inside the female and he burst into the sea at just 16 inches long. His genetic makeup predicted 100 years of life; roaming the seas, alone. 100 years would prove to be impossible, but he would live four years and grow to be 26 feet. If he had reached adulthood, he would have been a mammoth at 40 feet. The Messenger was born alone and died alone, a gentle denizen of the tropical waters, feeding on plankton, crab, and small fish; a threat to neither humans nor charismatic sea life. Yes, he was technically a fish, neither whale nor common shark, but science classified him as shark and, because of his legendary size, as a whale.

The Messenger encountered humans when he was two years old and plying the waters off the Yucatan. He encountered humans for the first time there, some with fins and bubbles, and others in masks and snorkels. The Messenger regarded them as nothing more than a curiosity and hardly noticed them, their size insignificant compared to his mammoth presence. He was considered a tourism celebrity, occasionally allowing divers to catch a ride on his broad polka-dotted back or grab his dorsal fin for a quick romp through the surf. This was not a deliberate or thoughtful response by the Messenger, but human activity would intersect with his own timeline in capricious ways.

Four years before his birth, his mother barely escaped a catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico when an oil company lost 4,900,000 barrels of oil just south of the Mississippi Delta. His relatives would feed there, and his mother was fortunate to follow a gyre that broke loose and joined the loop current into the Straights of Florida. This twist of fate would allow the Messenger to be born, but His destiny would include a great sacrifice. His relatives were never seen again.

Of course, the Messenger was oblivious to the concepts of future and destiny. He lived four years as a juvenile, swimming through the vast blue depths with no concept of destructive land activities on the human world that surrounded him. Hours bled into days and days into years. Swimming, eating and the occasional human encounter filled his days as sunlight flowed into moonlight and moon shadows into dawn. Passage of time was an abstract, marked by the changing light, the rhythms of the tides, and the hunt for food that moved on the currents.

Destiny stalks both the innocent and the guilty. The Messenger was sent by Fate, although some will say a God had a hand in what was to follow; a warning to the guilty that they were killing themselves. Of course he had no part in making a decision to sacrifice himself, and unless the guilty honored his Sacrifice, It would surely be in vain.

The Messenger had barely reached the age of four when destiny caught up with him in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico near a barrier island.

How this happened is not explainable, but there was a poison in the water; Red Tide; K.brevis, red as the blood that would pour from his gills when he was found in the surf near a popular beach resort. Why was he in shallow water? Did the suffocating poison cause him to search for human help? Did he remember previous human encounters? Or, did he simply get caught in the incoming tide and become stranded on a sandbar? Those with imagination and a true heart will say the last gyrations of his muscular body were purposeful. Those living in despair with closed hearts will say this was a "natural" event.

How did the Messenger become trapped in the poison in the first place? His exquisite sense of taste and smell should have alerted him to the toxic area that would ultimately suffocate him in a painful, panic-filled death dance on July 22. He was the first of millions of pounds of dolphins, turtles, manatees, tarpon, giant groupers, and thousands upon thousands of smaller bottom feeders, eels and even other sharks that would be scooped from the beaches by giant machines and hauled away to landfills. The smell and sight of so much bloated death would alarm the world. It must be hidden. The beaches became places that made it impossible to breathe, even for the creatures with lungs and not gills. K. brevis joined the incoming tides and began to stalk the land.

The Messenger was the first casualty to appear. A meteoric marvel. Photos of his still beautiful corpse were seen worldwide. The Messenger was celebrated, but not for the warning he offered. There was no Joan of Arc to herald his presence to the King as she told of the Archangel Gabriel, ready to fight by her side as she saved France. John the Baptist did not appear to foretell the Savior's sacrifice. No, the Messenger died alone with no one to explain why he died. The manner of his death gained too much significance, the reason was elusive, and imagination was lacking.

Memory will remain the only framework of the Messenger's existence. His death necessitated a cover-up, but the soft beach sands have begun to sink, revealing his resting place. No one will talk about him anymore, and some become angry if one asks. Even those who dug the tomb say they have no memory of where.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)

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