Mermaids Against Plastic

Mermaids Against Plastic

About the Project

What if every visitor to and from Cancun watched a short film about a pair of beautiful Mermaids… Mermaids who double as ocean plastic activists? Could this conservation media change visitor behavior regarding plastic pollution and the ocean?  That’s the goal of “Mermaids Against Plastic,” a campaign born at the 2017 CMG Catalyst Workshop on Ocean Plastics out of the team’s shared desire to protect the ocean from marine plastic pollution. The feature-length documentary, currently in edit, follows two women citizen scientists, designated as “mermaids,” in a quest to eliminate plastic pollution from the Yucatán Peninsula and the rest of Mexico. Shot on location in the Riviera Maya, the film features Karen, a manta-ray specialist, and Tamara, a scuba diver and instructor, as they persuade and inspire local business owners, visiting tourists and decision makers to stop plastic from reaching the Central and South American waterways. The women focus their efforts on reducing single-use plastic and encouraging sustainable alternatives, like adopting reusable water bottles and filling stations throughout the region. 

Right outside the lively city of Cancun, its resorts and manicured beaches, plastics wash up on the less-frequented shores in shocking amounts. Growing mounds of beverage bottles, shampoo containers, doll parts, flip flops and more dot the miles of coastline and stretch out as far as the eye can see. As the scientists tell us, this ecologically rich region of beach, reef and mangrove forest unfortunately lie on the path of ocean currents, which act like an aquatic conveyer belt. The currents carry a steady string of garbage from throughout the continent and beyond into the Caribbean Sea, depositing their bounty along the sun-kissed shores of the Riviera Maya.

But the film and accompanying outreach campaign share a message of hope, as the Yucatán is uniquely positioned to effect change and develop a consortium of local businesses to make the switch from single use plastics to sustainable alternatives. In a prime tourist destination filled with a revolving door of international visitors, screenings in and around the Yucatán have the potential to reach a large and ever-changing population of tourists from around the world. At the same time, the film ties the issue to the local community and its impact on local life and widely-loved paradise.

The film is designed to target three groups for action: local dive shop and tour company owners and employees, tourists, and local Quintana Roo decision makers who have the power to effect policy that shifts us away from single use plastics. In addition to measuring screening attendees, the Mermaids team will record the number of local businesses adopting their “Healthy Oceans” label initiative and the number of policy changes proposed and/or passed by local decision makers.  

About the Grantee

Grantees have also received funding from multiple grants, including National Geographic Explorer. 


With a track record of developing film projects and executing their accompanying social and environmental action campaign, Sylvia Johnson is a humanitarian at her core. The Latin America born documentary filmmaker spent her youth in and around the Caribbean Ocean. Now based in New Mexico, Sylvia has lived and worked in Brazil, Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, El Salvador, the United States, and the UK. She has worked for organizations including the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, the National Park Service, the Inter-American Culture and Development Foundation, SFAI, and as a contributing faculty member at the Corcoran College of Art + Design and Santa Fe University of Art and Design. Her films have been featured in film festivals around the world. Sylvia is a National Geographic Explorer, a Fulbright Scholar, a Center for Environmental Filmmaking Fellow, and an Aspen Institute Socrates Seminar grant recipient.


Alex Levin’s decades of experience as a commercial cinematographer helps him keep up with the many diverse demands of adventure filmmaking. Alex studied filmmaking in Philadelphia but grew to love filmmaking as a kid, shooting skateboarding videos with friends and making films for school projects. Living in NYC helps Alex maintain a breadth of commercial clients, but he remains committed to telling stories about the outdoors and the people who spend time in it. His work with REI earned him a Vimeo Staff Pick award, and his films have been selected for the Ripple Effect Film Project and the Sustainability Shorts Film Festival.


These citizen scientists use their regional ties to facilitate local capacity development and community buy-in for a variety of projects.

Karen Fuentes, a manta ray specialist, has made the Mexican Caribbean her home for the last eight years. She founded the Mexican Caribbean Manta Project, which aims to do research with mobulids species and create awareness through environmental programs for the conservation of those species within Mexican and Caribbean waters. She also serves as Project Leader for UK-based charity Manta Trust.

Tamara Adame is a PADI IDC Staff Instructor, a Full Cave Diver and a Freediver. Though she dreamt of the world’s big cities and diverse cultures as a kid, it wasn’t until she got older that she realized how special it was to grow up in nature. The self-taught underwater naturalist wants “every diver in the world to feel the need to reduce our impact on the aquatic environment.” She helped conduct a survey among Quinta Roo’s dive and snorkel businesses in order to learn more about their use of disposable plastic water bottles. The results helped her and others better tackle this issue and change taboos about Mexican drinking water.