By Rich Pollack
Julie Travis loves mermaids and just about all things ocean-related.
If there’s one thing she can’t stand, however, it’s debris scattered along her favorite stretches of Delray Beach’s public beach.
So when Travis decided to create a group of beach-cleaning women who would scour the sand looking for debris, the name Trashy Mermaids was the perfect fit.
The moniker — and the goal — tells you a lot about Travis, a Bostonian who transplanted to Florida decades ago to spend more time near the ocean.
“Julie has this flair for fun, but she takes a serious approach to environmental issues,” says Joan Fisk, her longtime friend and fellow Trashy Mermaid.
Just how much of a flair for fun can be seen in the titles Travis and Fisk have come up with for the leadership team of the Trashy Mermaids‚ an informal group that has an air of sisterhood.
Travis is the SEA-EO, instead of the CEO, and Fisk is the SEA-OO. There’s also SEA-IO. The group meets once a month for what Travis appropriately named “trash talk.”
Start chatting with Travis about the beach and the junk she and others in the group have found and the wordplays and the lighthearted conversations vanish, replaced with a passion-filled denunciation of debris left on the beach and those responsible for it.
A longtime Delray Beach resident who works full time in sales support for Sensormatic Retail Solutions, Travis makes being at the beach every weekend part of her routine.
“I get to the beach every chance I get,” she said. “But I can’t come here every Saturday and Sunday and look at all the disgusting things on the sand.”
Among the things she’s seen are used personal hygiene products, underwear and even buried soiled diapers.
It was a dead sea turtle at the shoreline, however, that led to Travis’ transformation from a silent spectator into a mermaid with a mission.
“That was the spark that made me say I had to do something, even if it was just me, myself and I,” she said.
What really struck Travis was the group of people who had gathered around the turtle — whose death she was told was caused by ingesting trash in the ocean — and were taking photos.
“Julie felt the turtle was being disrespected,” Fisk said.
With the idea for Trashy Mermaids building momentum, Travis contacted a friend who designed T-shirts and then she went online to find other trash grabbers.
Through email and word of mouth with friends, the Mermaids organized their first cleanup on the first Saturday in May, gathering on the beach across from Sandoway Park.
“We expected 10 people and there were probably close to 20,” Travis said.
The Mermaids’ first-Saturday-of-the-month cleanups have continued, and in July, a similar size group picked up trash, using grabbers and buckets — including 15 donated by the local Home Depot store.
The group included several mermaids in training (children) as well as a few “mermen.”
About half of the women who joined the cleanup were there for the first time, some having learned about the group through the Trashy Mermaids Delray Beach Facebook page (facebook.com/groups/trashymermaidsdelraybeach).
That Travis decided to include mermaids as part of her beach-cleaning effort comes as no surprise to anyone who has been to her home.
“I have mermaids everywhere,” she says. “My entire house is mermaids.”
She has mermaids on her mousepad, mermaids on her lipstick holder and mermaids just about everywhere in her kitchen.
Travis, who turns 60 in August, was the mermaid of honor at her niece’s wedding and even did a photo shoot where she and her cousin and an aunt are in full mermaid costume. Travis’ husband, Craig, the owner of a yacht brokerage, is dressed as Neptune.
“Mermaids are beautiful and come in every shape, size and color,” she says. “You look at all the mermaids and even if you’re having a bad day, it makes you happy.”
The next beach cleanup begins at 9 a.m. Aug. 7 on Delray Beach across from Sandoway Discovery Center.