WTF is Mer-School?

Imagine if you could redesign the education system as we currently know it.

What would you turn it into? What would the curriculum include? Where would the content be delivered? Who would be in your classroom? Who would you want to learn from?

To be honest, I think the majority of school was a pretty big waste of time - except for the parts when we got share meals with our friends at lunch, go away on adventures, play outdoors and be creative.

Our current education system was designed for the industrial revolution - with a focus on conforming, and consumption - and if you ask me, it’s outdated, broken and needs an epic re-design so that we can harness our collective and unique human potential -  foster our authenticity, enhance our ability to collaborate and evolve as a human species.

So, Kate Nelson (AKA Plastic Free Mermaid ) and I set out to prototype our dream school, with the biggest legends we could find.


We both give a huge shit about sustainability and consumption  - and we wanted to focus on how we could train up epic change makers, help them find their purpose, empower them to go out into the world and create their own unique ripples of awesomeness.

We don’t have all the answers, we are just ordinary mer-humans trying to figure it out, learning as we go -  because shit’s just gotta change.

Firstly, we wanted to really model what living sustainably, within the planetary boundaries could look like, given that just last month was world overshoot day - the day in the year when we consume  more than what the earth can regenerate. So, first of all we needed a contained space, a space where we would have to share all of our resources and be really mindful of everything we were consuming.

And...Because Kate and I are both mermaids… we obviously couldn't think of a better container than a sailboat for our school.

So we found this beauty - meet our home “Ying Yang”:

📸@shanieluanne +

📸@shanieluanne +

And you know what the raddest part was?

While our space was going to be confined and shared, our wild outdoor playground would constantly change, as we sailed around. So, obviously,  we wanted to explore somewhere magical, wild and diverse - in order to stimulate, inspire and delight our brains as much as possible.

So where were we going to set sail?  

We couldn’t go past K’Gari (otherwise known as Fraser Island) which means paradise, and was recently renamed back to its traditional name by original custodians of the land, the Butchulla people.

Mermaids just cleansing in Lake Mckenzie on K'Gari

Mermaids just cleansing in Lake Mckenzie on K'Gari

Some of the laws of the Butchulla people include:

“What is good for the country comes first;
If you have plenty, you must share;
If it's not yours, you shall not take.”

Pretty beautiful huh? Three things if we all lived by might make the world a much more magical and kind place.


So, what did Ying Yang need in order to become our pop-up school and home for a week?

Firstly, we needed fresh water, food and a killer curriculum for the adventure.

Once we had this, our pop-up sailing school took off with 11 legends from Hervey Bay - ready for a ripper week!

 But... and on day 1, we almost ran out of water.


A bunch of absolute Fuckgivers on a conservation sailboat school ran out of one of the most vital elements for our survival for the week, in just 24 hours.

Did it leak? Were the tanks full before we left?


We fucking used it. Drinking, brushing our teeth, doing dishes, cooking and drinking.

This is pretty alarming, especially when Australia is currently facing drought across the country - we had to look at our consumption and found out that the average sydney-sider uses 200-300L of water per day.


We had to figure out a way to survive for 7 days on Ying Yang within the carrying capacity of the boat, which was 800L -  or 12L per person, per day.

So let’s think about this for a moment.

We each should drink about 2L of water per day, and we also needed some water for cooking and brushing our teeth. Which meant, we had to improvise on some things if we were going to decrease our consumption.

So.. What to do?

 Collectively, we decided to do our communal dishes with sea water, and even bath in the ocean as much as possible.



Note* the bathrooms on the boat flushed with sea water so we didn’t need to account for this. But...did you know a single toilet flush can use 12L of water! That would have used our per person daily quota of water in one flush! 

This kind of privileged bullshit hurts my heart - it makes me think of the remarkable humans that travel for hours a day to get fresh drinking water, meanwhile we are using fresh water to wash away our shit..

I know it’s not polite to talk shit while people are eating, but hey, what we eat, becomes our shit, so let’s just go right there.

Food was obviously the other thing we needed for survival on our pop-up school - knowing that our diet makes up about 30% of our ecological footprint - we wanted to minimise our impact, so we prepared a plastic free, vegan, Ayurvedic meal plan.

Shanie & Monni munching on a delicious morning treat! 📸@monnitravels_official

Shanie & Monni munching on a delicious morning treat! 📸@monnitravels_official

But then guess what?


We had to make an emergency trip to K’Gari, to get more supplies, and being a small convenience stall meant we had to get some plastic options.



However, overall, we are pleased to report, after 7 days on a boat, with 11 humans, we produced just over one bag of trash, the majority of the volume being recyclable aluminium cans and some celebratory glass bottles of kombucha.

So what did we learn at “Mer-School”?

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We had workshops on environmental activism, finding your purpose, how to make plastic free toothpaste and deodorant, and we even had pop-up classes by Cristiana Damiano our skipper - who just so happened to also be a bad-ass marine scientist who teaches for National Geographic. Between sailing she taught us about her marine research, humpback whales, geology, the weather and even how to sail our 46Ft sailboat (well, we still can’t sail it on our own.... but we can put up the sails.. kinda!)

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Sound more fun than a university lecture or a maths class?

Duh! Fuck yeah it does!

We woke up with the sun and meditated, we did yoga on the bow of the boat and set our intentions for the day and we often closed the day by doing yoga as the sunset:

But one of the highlights would have had to have been the magical musicians Felipe Baldimir and Marty Green whom joined our adventure - they were the masters of pop-up sing-a-long sessions and spontaneous dance parties! 

Did you know when you share a musical experience, your brain waves sync up?

“A bond that indicates each individual is having a better time as part of a collective”


So was the pop-up Mer-School on a sailboat a worthwhile MVP ( Mermaid Viable Product ) for the future of education, syncing up the collective consiousness of a selection of legends?

I think it might have been based on this testimonial we received moments after our closing ceremony:

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Still not screaming to come to the next one?

Check us out swimming with the humpbacks midway through a workshop:

Stay tuned for applications for Mer-School 2.0 in 2019!




Sara Rickards