With summer's daily deluges, you've probably spent more time wringing out your soaked sneakers than pondering global water shortages. But the day you read this, the world's human population will consume 3 trillion gallons of water. And not a whole lot of it is what you'd call "clean." The U.N. Environmental Program estimates that 15 million children die each year from foul water. Here at home, we're slurping down disease-causing microorganisms in every glass from the tap. Marine species are going extinct. And pundits project that the major wars of this century will be fought over a substance that falls from the sky for free.
That's a lot of big, bad news, but artist, philanthropist, and educator Wyland knows how to rise to a gigantic challenge. Here's a guy who went to the beach one day as a kid, spotted a Pacific grey whale in the distance, and devoted the next 25 years to raising awareness about the sea, the animals that live in it, the rivers that feed it, and the thoughtless practices that pollute it. The man sets whale-sized goals: In 1981, he set a goal of painting 100 marine-life murals around the world. The murals are colossal, composed at warp speed, and usually completed within a week. Wyland has painted K-Mart-sized scenes of frolicking orcas; bottlenose dolphin pods disporting on 20-story hotels; humpbacks swimming in space above city parking garages; and the largest mural in the world: "Planet Ocean," which wraps the entire 1,280 feet of the Long Beach (California) Convention Center. For a local example, drive by the Burdines-Macy's store at 22 E. Flagler St., Miami.
Ninety-one of these gargantuan trompe l'oeil creations are finished, and the irrepressible Wyland -- who talks and walks as fast as he paints -- is already organizing other projects. These days, his Coastal Clean-Up Tour is taking him 1,770 miles through 16 cities in ten days. He'll be on hand at this weekend's Hollywood Beach Clambake (at the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk and Johnson Street) to lead a waterfront and beach cleanup. "Our goal," he says breathlessly, "is to bridge the worlds of art and science. We want to protect the quality of water that connects all countries and cities. But this has to be a global effort. We're learning ourselves and sharing that knowledge. While we're cleaning up waterways, we're hearing all about the various problems in each city we visit. But there's nothing we can't change if we partner in conservation."
After the cleanup, treat yourself to a weekend of fun, food, and water-related educational activities: a chowder cook-off; vendors selling crab cakes, steamers, fresh-shucked oysters, shrimp cocktail, and seafood gumbo; and a lineup of local and regional bands. Compete in a treasure hunt for roundtrip airline tickets, or sign up for Goddess of the Sea, King Neptune, Little Miss Starfish, and Little Nemo look-alike contests. -- Gail Shepherd