When Hurricane Idalia made landfall on Florida’s west coast, she brought the sea with her. As Idalia’s storm surge tore through Hernando’s Pine Island, wave after wave washed over the local park. In the surge of the squall, the statue of the mermaid Kaimana was lifted from her pedestal and lost to the ocean. Or so it was thought. Hernando County Tourist Development Council’s John Athanason was set to lead a search for the mermaid on Thursday, but an unexpected development changed those plans.
Steve Emerson, whose father developed Pine Island “in the late 50s” and whose grandfather was Brooksville legend John Emerson, contacted the tourism department on Wednesday morning prior to the scheduled excursion to let them know she had been found. It was no longer a search and rescue operation. Instead, Athanason and the Sun visited Emerson at his canal-side property to hear the tale of how he located the mermaid amidst recovery efforts.
“Following the hurricane- a day or two after, I came down,” Emerson said. “I wanted to assess the damage at my house. I put my boat in the water and drove around trying to help people that had lost stuff out of their yard… During one of my trips, I saw something that I wasn’t sure what it was. It turns out, after passing it a few times, I pulled in to determine what it was. It was the base of that mermaid. So, I was able to get it out of the mangroves and pull it all the way back.”
While helping several neighbors with cleanup and helping a friend retrieve an Adirondack chair out of the nearby canal, Emerson happened upon the statue. Once he retrieved the mermaid, he had to lift her out of the water using a boat trailer due to her being waterlogged. This begs the question: what would her condition be after being buffeted by the winds and the waves?
Fortunately, the work of art received minimal damage. When Kaimana was snatched from her plinth on Pine Island, the bolts holding her down were stripped relatively cleanly from the foundation. Once she was free of her bonds to the earth, she was likely spared further damage due to being thrust deep into the mangroves. Safe and sound, she awaits her official rechristening in the coming months, though there is currently no timetable for her reinstallation at the popular seaside park.
As the name Kaimana is the Hawaiian word for “power of the ocean,” it was oddly fitting that she was the only mermaid statue to be washed away by the tides. One of a set of 27 mermaid statues around Hernando County, the ironically named Kaimana, is part of what Hernando has dubbed the “Mermaid Tale Trail.” According to Athanason, this is an effort by the county to “direct people to find these mermaids and discover new places in Hernando County that otherwise they may never have known existed.”
For Mckenzie Montecalvo, a substitute teacher at Explore K8, art has been a passion for her since she was in kindergarten. She has explored various artistic endeavors, such as working for Painting with a Twist, and currently makes pet portraits. According to the Florida Mermaid Trail website, the artist is a wife and mother of two sons with a dog named Pickles. When a former employer informed her of the opportunity, she applied and was picked to be the artist who would paint Kaimana’s canvas.
Kaimana’s inspiration was to depict the beauty of the ocean and the dangers on and below the surface of its waves. Sponsored by Terlep Chiropractic, the mermaid was moved to her home on Pine Island on February 1, 2023. Montecalvo remarked on the serendipity of her sponsor and is pleased that the mermaid has been found with minimal wear to the creation.
“It’s amazing,” said Montecalvo. “I’m so glad. I was super worried about her. The fact that they found her mostly intact—I think she only had like a little scrape on her arm or something is just a miracle. So, that’s amazing. She’s going to have such a great story now. Got washed away and found that’s just amazing…”
“It was so perfect, too, since my mermaid had the skeleton tail- a chiropractic place, Terlep, is the one that sponsored it. It’s just like a match made in heaven,” Montecalvo added.
These statues’ locations range from Hernando Beach to Brooksville and anywhere in between. Through Florida’s Adventure Coast website, tourists or locals can find out the names, locations, artists, meaning, and even the sponsors of these works of art. Those who wish to learn more can find the pages of the 27 mermaids and their accompanying information at https://floridamermaidtrail.com/tale-trail.
“I’m glad we were able to reunite it, and it will be more meaningful for me,” Emerson said. “I’ll have to go down to the park and visit her every once in a while. So, I’m glad I was able to help.”