Category Archives: swimming

How to interpret The Red Turtle

What does The Red Turtle mean? How are we supposed to interpret a movie with no dialogue and no explanations? Not easily.

The Oscar-nominated animation has not yet prompted an onslaught of online opinion. It offers a green and blue canvas for people to paint their own portraits and impose their own perceptions onto this rectangular dream. Meditative and mysterious, the film also feels allegorical. It’s an extended bedtime story for adults.

Others articles discuss the director (Michaël Dudok de Wit of the Netherlands) and the art of the animation (Studio Ghibli of Japan), but I want to explore the symbolism of the film. Let’s start with the title, which is what drew me to see it.

Why Red?

A sea turtle with a red shell is exceptional, improbable, and startling. The color red could be interpreted to indicate danger, blood, passion, and other strong emotions. But turtles are toothless. Sea turtles do not threaten humans, although this red turtle does disrupt the protagonist’s plans to escape the deserted island. A silent siren, she controls his destiny. She is a stop sign.

The Turtle of the Red Shell

Sea turtles are exceptionally ancient, amphibious survivors in the tree of life, yet they are highly threatened by human activity. They represent our connection to the past and our alienation in the present. They know things that we can’t, and they are pacific. In contrast, humans are young and violent. We’re jealous and discontent.

The nameless main character is a non-turtle, an every-man, representing a lost soul and a frustrated loner. His conscious desire is to escape, like the delicate, hatchling sea turtles that scatter into the sea, but he is a failure. He has no home, no shell. The turtle, in its shell, is always home.

Conception and Rebirth

The film’s narrative unfolds as a creation myth, with Eve eventually arising from the red turtle’s shell and giving birth to a son, creating a trinity. This expansion represents the man’s unconscious desire to create. He believed that his true life existed outside of the island, in another place and time, but his spirit conjured up new life from within. The red turtle is his tormentor, and his deliverer.

The son is a hybrid who is free to join the turtles. He achieves what the father could not, and he chooses the feminine path of his mother. Both father and son experience the same rebirthing process after falling into the cave, yet the son struggles much less. He is becoming more harmonious, more integrated with nature than the father. He is returning to the amphibious womb of the ocean.

But a Dream

The Red Turtle could be enjoyed as an extended dream sequence, like the Technicolor portion of the Wizard of Oz. There are dreams within the dream, as when the man flies over a pier or when he hears a string quartet. But he awakens to the confines of his tropical island.

turtle FKNMS

The island nurtures him with food, water, and eventually a mate. At times it turns violent and dangerous, and eventually he falls asleep on the sand, forever. He achieves peace and belonging. Just as the turtle will return to the sea, he will return to the sand.

Feeling Unsettled

This interpretation is one of many possibilities, such a this one from Paste, calling it “more impressionistic than thematic.” You could look at the silence as ambivalence; the island could be the protagonist; the turtle could be a hallucination.

My mother is a turtle.

I may find another meaning in the future, but today I see it this way: the turtle is a higher being, a more advanced consciousness, and we are struggling to connect with it, just as many people are struggling in today’s world to reconnect with Nature. We are lost. Despite our wired world, we are disconnected.

So many people today envision the world in screens. They fear peering away from their phones and their computers, lest they miss something important. They need a reminder that stories have magic and power to heal, whereas a screen is only a tool. Screens can convey stories, but only the interpreter can infuse them with meaning.

The Red Turtle, while only a film, is also a chance to meditate on a moving yet perplexing story. It’s an invitation to dream of something beyond the rectangle.

How can swimming in the ocean help a park?

It can’t, but swimmers can.

And swimmers know non-swimmers, who can do even more.

This week I’ve been blogging about Biscayne National Park in preparation for a fundraising and awareness-raising effort that centers around a marathon swim as the hook. Hooked yet? It worked last June when I swam the 12.5 miles around Key West solo: I dedicated it to the climate change activism of 350 South Florida, which I serve as president, and people pulled out their wallets. I was somewhat surprised at how easy it was (the fundraising, not the swim!).

Looking at one of several structures in Stiltsville, within the park.

Looking at one of several structures in Stiltsville, within the park.

Blog posts review some of the reasons why Biscayne National Park needs help:
Jan Brady syndrome
Big and shallow
Nuclear expansion
Disappearing ecosystems

Another reason is to celebrate what the park has and has accomplished. Next year, 2016, is the centennial of the national park system, and Biscayne National Park turns 50 in a couple years. So creating a swim event now and repeating it annually would hit several landmarks and help make “sea”-marks.

Swimmers Too Dry

As a lifelong swimmer and more recent environmentalist, I have been disappointed with the lack of engagement by competitive swimmers with conservation. Can you name one swimmer, or one swimming event, that champions the environment?

Attempts have been feeble. The Olympic champion Aaron Peirsol, a spokesperson for Oceana, tried to use the open water Race for the Oceans as a platform, but it fizzled.

When I competed in 2013 in the St. Croix Coral Reef Swim, which claims to support reef conservation, I saw no efforts to educate swimmers about the highly degraded reef system we swam over.

Water rules.

Water rules.

In the 2014 Swim Around Key West, I scored a small victory by getting samples of reef-safe sunscreen included in the goodie bags. But I couldn’t convince the island’s Reef Relief organization to get invovled.

The connection of swimmers to water is so obvious that it makes me wonder: are we afraid to know what we’re swimming in? Or does swimming in chlorinated pools make us numb to natural aquatic ecosystems?

I think the problem with swimmers is that nobody has asked them to get more involved. So I’m asking. I want to try, where I live, to defend an amazing national treasure. Swim it to save it.

Who’s ready to join me?

More problems, less money in Biscayne

With all the world’s problems, who cares about a safe and secure national park?

Plenty of people do, and in this age of political divisiveness, we could all use something that everyone agrees on. National parks, like Everglades and Biscayne, make Floridians and Americans proud, and the possibility of losing them would certainly rally people around a worthy cause.

To do something now, contribute to my campaign to Swim for Biscayne National Park, at http://www.gofundme.com/Biscayne.

In fact, we are losing these two parks. Almost all of the land in both parks will be underwater within a few decades, due to rising seas, and strong hurricanes could be devastating in the shorter term. Then there’s ocean acidification.

Reef Rot

Have you seen this sign? Most visitors don't, because they arrive by boat.

Have you seen this sign? Most visitors don’t, because they arrive by boat.

The coral reefs within Biscayne National Park, part of the extensive Florida Reef system, face 15 rounds of punches from all angles. The changing chemistry of the sea, cause by the absorption of too much carbon dioxide from pollution, puts a slow chokehold on animals such as corals. It will take decades to determine, but acidification could prove to be the strongest force of extinction ever seen by humans.

This year, if predictions about El Nino come true, all coral reefs could be dealing with a devastating warming event. These events only need a few abnormally warm weeks to turn living corals into skeletons. The last major bleaching event in Florida was nearly a decade ago, and the likelihood of the next one keeps rising. If not this year, definitely plan on next year for more coral bleaching and disease. And it will keep getting worse, with no relief from climate change in sight.

Boating in Mud

Beautiful water hides the scars underneath, from boats hitting the shallows.

Beautiful water hides the scars underneath, caused by boats hitting the shallows.

Clueless boaters are a daily threat to Biscayne National Park. Propellers rip through the shallow seagrass and leave scars that are common sights throughout the park.

Fishers leave behind plenty of hooks and line, the most common type of marine debris in the park. When I was snorkeling there in 2013, I came across a large net lodged in a reef. It was too difficult to dislodge, but the authorities were notified.

Just this month, an enormous 6,000 pound plastic pipe washed up on Elliott Key. What a nightmare.

Just as litter accumulates, natural things decrease. Intensive fishing creates ecosystem imbalances by removing large numbers of creatures. For years, Biscayne National Park has been fighting to create zones closed to fishing, but local politicians and their fishing buddies won’t have it.

Money is Tight

You would be wrong to assume that a national park prevents hunting (such as fishing) and that is has plenty of money to operate. The budget for Biscayne National Park is around $4 million annually to fund all its programs and upkeep, about 40 employees, and more than 500,000 visitors. Although it has no entrance fee, Biscayne National Park would only need to charge $8 per visitor to cover its entire budget. Without such fees, it relies on taxes and other sources of income that may prove unreliable.

The park isn’t going anywhere today, but at the same time, its future and its prosperity are not guaranteed. Little Orphan Biscayne needs people to care for it as much as they care about the Everglades. Where are the billions of dollars for restoration of the Florida Reef? Where are the laws to prevent boaters and fishers from hacking the ecosystem to pieces?

Swimmers, stand up and take stock of Biscayne National Park. Maybe our strokes could bring new life and needed attention to this underwater treasure.

Big bay, small swimmers, tough decisions

Where should we go?

Even if you don’t swim, you can help me figure out the best place to hold an official marathon swim in Biscayne National Park, the underwater jewel just south of Miami. For a couple of years I’ve been ruminating about The Swim for Biscayne National Park, and now it’s morphed into a crowdfunding idea (http://www.gofundme.com/Biscayne). The swim’s main intention is to enlighten locals about the park’s existence, because no one will care if they don’t know it’s there.

I would love a large grant from one of the donors to the South Florida National Parks Trust, but I haven’t approached most of them, because I haven’t succeeded in drumming up much enthusiasm within my circle of influence. I’m even reluctant to talk about it, because I can’t afford to do much on my own, and I don’t have a boat to explore the park. Obviously, I could use a little boost, whether in word in in dollar.

Biscayne National Park is the large blue outline, just east of Miami (Florida Ocean Alliance 2013)

Biscayne National Park is outlined as a large block attached to Miami-Dade County. (Map from Florida Ocean Alliance 2013)

 

 

Swimming in Circles

As for the swim’s course, considering that you can fish nearly anywhere, and take your boat nearly anywhere, it’s safe to assume that you can swim nearly anywhere in Biscayne National Park.

Almost. A triangle in the Atlantic, directly east of Elliott Key, is off-limits to everything expect drift fishing and trolling. The Legare Anchorage holds an ancient British shipwreck, the HMS Foley, that sank in 1748.

Never mind, as there are plenty of other wrecks in the park’s Maritime Heritage Trail, and plenty of space to float around.

BISCmap1

The border of Biscayne National Park is less than a mile from Miami. (credit: “BISCmap1” by Mgreason, Public Domain, Wikipedia)

From the island of Key Biscayne near Miami, the park border lies less than half a mile from Bill Baggs State Park. Less than two miles away is historic Stiltsville, one of the most arresting sights in Florida. A group of wrecks surround the houses on stilts, and that loop would makes for a very cool, four-mile round trip swim. It is unknown if anyone has attempted this swim, and logistically it’s the easiest one to attempt. We could pull that crew together (kayaks and swimmers) in no time and at minimal cost.

Despite its huge size, most of Biscayne National Park is less than 12 feet deep, especially within Biscayne Bay. A deeper strip runs on the Atlantic side, further out to sea, but it becomes shallow again within sight of Elliot Key. Here are dozens of beautiful, shallow coral reefs.

That’s where I would love to stage a swim, and it’s where I went snorkeling in 2013 with classmates from Florida International University studying marine protected areas. Read more about that experience in an article I wrote for National Parks Traveler. We saw endangered elkhorn corals thriving here, which essentially represents their northernmost limit. That sight alone is worth the trip.

For a self-propelled visit from an island, the closest reef to Elliott Key requires more than one mile of swimming. Most reefs are more than three miles offshore, so swimming to them and back would require quite an effort. Not impossible, but challenging, and the exact course would require some consultations with experts.

Getting to the reefs by boat is not difficult, so another option involves hopping off a boat, like the snorkelers do, and finding a pathway between the patch reefs. With the right launching point, you could hit several reefs within a one-mile trek.

On the Other Paddle

Perhaps the most media-friendly challenge would be the “escape to Miami” swim from Boca Chita Key, a popular haunt for boaters with a scenic lighthouse. Either west to the mainland or north to Key Biscayne would involve about nine miles through shallow water. Definitely do-able, and it’s unlikely that anyone has tried it.

Depending on the currents, we may want to go one direction or another. Help! The Gulf Stream is nearby and pushes north, but there must be many other currents driven by the tides, especially around the sandy, grassy area known as the Safety Valve. Viewed rom above, the tidal stripes clearly run east to west.

Well, I guess I’ll keep studying the options. It would be fun to organize an inaugural, communal swim around Stiltsville by the end of May (the 31st?) as a way to kickstart this campaign.

Visit the Park, Any Way

Even if you don’t want to get wet, definitely plan to visit Biscayne National Park soon. When arriving by boat, consider using the existing mooring buoys instead of an anchor. Most buoys are in water of about 20 feet deep.

Arriving by car involves driving through Homestead to reach the Dante Fascell Visitor Center at Convoy Point, open until 5:00 p.m. You can’t easily swim in the shallows around here, although kayaking is encouraged. There’s a boardwalk and areas for a picnic near the bay.

Not far from shore, dolphins, manatees and sea turtles are living the dream in Biscayne National Park. Join them.

Last chance to support Swim Around Key West (aka operation shark bait)

A marathon is 26.2 miles on land, so what would be the equivalent in the water? The answer remains debatable, but this Saturday I will find out how long it takes to swim 12.5 miles.

The 12.5 mile swim makes a complete circle of the island of Key West.

The 12.5 mile swim makes a complete circle of the island of Key West.

The Swim Around Key West is the longest swim I’ve ever attempted. I’m also using this moment of temporary insanity to raise funds for climate change activism. All donations will support 350 South Florida, a local chapter of 350.org. I serve as the chapter’s current president.

To make a pledge, email 350SouthFlorida@gmail.com. At $2 per miles, that’s $25.

My goal is to break 6 hours. I’ll have a kayak escort, and I’ll use Aquaman’s superpowers to lasso whales and repel sharks. There’s a very cool development of tracking a great white shark that already swam around Key West, but I don’t expect to see Katherine.

Guess I’ll have to swim extra fast!

The 12.5 mile swim makes a complete circle of the island of Key West.

Diana Nyad’s two nights at sea

“I could see the lights of Key West.”

Diana Nyad

Feeding time in between Cuba and the U.S. (from Diana Nyad’s Facebook).

On Labor Day 2013, September 2, Diana Nyad, age 64, walked ashore onto Florida after spending more than 50 hours and two nights swimming under her own power from Cuba. Watch these videos of her triumphant arrival.

She delivered three messages to the world, which I will simplify here:

  1. Never give up.
  2. You’re never too old.
  3. It takes a team.

I want to recognize her incredible courage and take a moment, as a swimmer myself, to think about the two nights she spent swimming in the open ocean. In complete darkness. Out there, civilization is gone. There are no lights. There are no landmarks to inspire you and keep you focused in the right direction. It is a place that swallows people in silence, and left alone there, you will die.

But she was not alone, as she pointed out in message number three. She had her team on the kayaks and boats, she had her doctor, coach, navigator, and many other crew members urging her onwards. The team had to keep the water dark to avoid attracting sharks, and Diana wore a red light on her cap to be identified. In the water, Diana was guided by a thin, red strip of LED light trailed underneath her from a mount on the main boat, creating a sort of bioluminescent mermaid’s tail, pointing “this way.” But little red lights in the middle of the ocean do not keep you safe or alive. Diana had to trust her team completely.

The sun rose after day and night one, and she had not slept. Another day passed as she kept swimming and willing herself forward, and the sun set again. Night number two. She had been awake for a period that would make most mortals delirious–and she had been swimming the entire time. She was entering the darkest night.

I cannot imagine how she felt on that second night. Her body had to be in survival mode from a technical standpoint, but one organ was even stronger than her body. Her mind.

In an interview today with CNN, Nyad said that for the final 15 hours of the swim, she could see lights in the distance. She knew it was Key West, her destination. After many hours of wishing herself towards those lights, there came a much greater light.

On day three, the sun rose.

Can you imagine how beautiful it must have been? Can you see it slowly peeling away the fear of darkness and ushering in the hope of day?

I could go on and on, gushing about the symbolic victory as well as the technical triumph of Diana Nyad’s swim. This feat was much, much more than a swimmer’s Mount Everest. It was one person’s dream that had died, gone into hibernation for more than 30 years, and then arose again. It was a foolish, fool’s pursuit of a gold medal in history, in life. It was impossible.

Until now. Diana Nyad proved a lesson that seems to be hitting me over the head lately. Everything is possible.

Surfers (and Discovery Channel) cause shark attacks

Let’s get real — unlike the Discovery Channel, which just aired a FAKE documentary about a giant, attacking shark (see the fraud skewered by the Daily Show in “Sharks, Lies, and Videotape“). Sharks would starve to death if they depended on eating humans.

The angel shark's shape shows that rays and sharks are related.

The angel shark’s shape shows that rays and sharks are related. Called Elasmobranchs, they are fish, not monsters.

The humans most responsible for the increase of reported shark attacks are scientists and surfers — scientists, because they love to count things that were never counted before, and surfers, because they love to swim in torrid waves where sharks are hunting for fish. Put in more diplomatic terms, the authoritative International Shark Attack files states: “The numerical growth in shark interactions does not necessarily mean that there is an increase in the rate of shark attacks; rather, it most likely reflects the ever-increasing amount of time spent in the sea by humans, which increases the opportunities for interaction between the two affected parties.”

Party of surfers, perhaps? It continues in its most recent annual report: Surfers and others participating in board sports (60% of cases: 48 incidents) were most often involved in these incidents in 2012. Less affected recreational user groups included swimmers/waders (22%) and divers (8%). Surfers have been the most-affected user group in recent years, the probable result of the large amount of time spent by these folks engaged in provocative activity (kicking of feet, splashing of hands, and “wipeouts”) in areas frequented by sharks, the surf zone.”

Across the entire world in 2012, during the billions upon billions of times that people entered the water at the beach, a total of 18 swimmers were bitten. More people were bitten by dogs right now while you are reading this sentence! (And dogs and snakes kill vastly higher numbers, but where is Angry Dog Week? Snake Week?). Of the total 80 attacks worldwide last year, 7 people died. Seven. More people than that died this instant trying to cross the street.

If I were a shark, I would try to kill many, many more people as a Public Service Announcement to GET OUT OF MY BACKYARD.

The fact is that drowning is a huge risk and shark attacks are not. Locals in Miami do not believe me when I tell them that no person has ever been killed by a shark here. Think about it: Miami does not have large waves, therefore it doesn’t have many surfers. It certainly has sharks — any part of the ocean does — it just doesn’t have as many people doing “wipeouts” in a shark’s dining room.

Our friends at the International Shark Attack File in Gainesville don’t want to offend surfers, so they call them “Surface Recreationists.” But let’s get real. If you want to surf, you accept the risk that you are playing in a wild, dangerous environment, where many animals are just trying to survive. If they bite you instead of a fish, it’s your fault.

But if you prefer fear over facts, watch the Discovery Channel.

P.S. To reduce your chances of a shark encounter, wear a dark or drab bathing suit. Or swim nude.