It’s No Myth: A Mermaid Who Is Helping Manatees
Mermaid Melissa’s work goes beyond entertainment. She is also dedicated to educating her audience. ”It has always been a passion of mine to speak to large groups of people, especially when it comes to saving our oceans and preserving our environment," she says. (Photo by Jessica Yakamna.)

By Nancy Sadusky
Director, Online Communications, Save the Manatee Club

“Saving the world’s oceans, before all creatures become mythical,” reads Mermaid Melissa’s logo. And this is a mermaid who takes her mission seriously. In a recent video, Mermaid Melissa swims at Three Sisters Springs (where she is joined by CC the manatee), in an effort to bring attention to the importance of protecting Florida’s springs and the wildlife that inhabit them.

Mermaid Melissa's logo

A professional free diver who can hold her breath for four minutes and 18 seconds, Mermaid Melissa is a promotional model and entertainer who performs in an underwater environment. A former marine mammal trainer at SeaWorld Orlando, she is also a stunt woman, an environmentalist, and a public speaker, and she is currently performing underwater live at Ripley's Aquarium in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

A native Floridian, Melissa had an affinity for water from a young age. “I grew up by an inlet off the coast in Saint Augustine, and the ocean was the number one pastime,” she says. Her mother introduced her to the pool in her first year, and she began free diving in Florida springs at age 10. Nicknamed “Mermaid Melissa” while at SeaWorld because of the length of time she could hold her breath underwater as well as her use of the dolphin kick, Melissa decided to take her love of all things aquatic and focus on a career as a mermaid.

But Mermaid Melissa’s work goes beyond entertainment. She is also dedicated to educating her audience. ”It has always been a passion of mine to speak to large groups of people, especially when it comes to saving our oceans and preserving our environment,” she says. While at SeaWorld, she answered questions from guests and would give ideas about how to protect animals and their habitat, and she continues that today as a mermaid mascot. In addition to helping manatees and Florida’s springs, she is currently working with actresses Katee Sackoff and Tricia Helfer to raise awareness and funding for cleanup efforts after the Gulf oil spill.

(Photo by Steve Williams.)

There is a natural alliance between manatees and mermaids. Manatees and dugongs belong to the scientific Order Sirenia, and in ancient mythology, “siren” was a term used for sea nymphs who lured sailors and their ships to treacherous rocks. Throughout history, sailors sometimes thought they were seeing mermaids when they were probably seeing manatees or dugongs. In fact, manatees and dugongs may have helped to perpetuate the myth of mermaids.

Melissa recalls the first time she saw a manatee at age eight while on a dock at a friend’s house: “I heard a strange sound, looked over, and saw a manatee drinking from a water pipe. I was so surprised, and I wanted to jump in, but I also knew that watching from the dock was best because I didn't want to scare him.” From that point on, she added manatees to her growing collection of sea creature pictures and research and still views them as special. “They have survived so much and deserve our respect,” she says. “I feel close to them and at peace in their presence.”

The YouTube video Mermaid Melissa recently created is titled “Save Our Springs & Manatee Conservation” and was shot at Three Sisters Springs, which was recently included as part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge with the help of Save the Manatee Club and others. Melissa describes Three Sisters as a favorite location for its clarity and unspoiled beauty. “It’s a small, perfect paradise that I feel protective of and wish to help save,” she says.

Watch the video featuring Mermaid Melissa and CC the manatee. Click on the photo above or click here to See the Video Now>>

A nice surprise in the video is the appearance of CC the manatee. In the video’s description, Melissa asks her viewers "...to co-exist and not intrude on their underwater world,” and she is sincere about it. “It is never my intention for CC or other manatees to end up in the video unless they happen to swim by while I am underwater,” she noted. “I enjoyed his company without ever approaching him. I believe this is why he kept coming toward us, because he was curious of the distance we respectfully gave him. I loved that CC was around. It reminds me of the bigger picture, of what we all need to protect.”

Mermaid Melissa hopes her videos and educational messages will encourage others to protect the aquatic environment she loves. She believes that “small acts of kindness to our planet can make a difference if everyone takes that first step forward.” And she has a special message for children and what they can do to protect oceans and springs and the wildlife that live there:

“Find the animal that touches your heart and focus on how you can make a difference: create a story, join a rescue program, do a school project, start a group of supporters, fund a charity, or find a personal way to share with others how saving manatees and other creatures is something that benefits us all. We have the voice that animals do not, so make sure the message you give for them is a powerful one. Love our planet and give back to the animals we love!”

Mermaid Melissa sends her appreciation for Save the Manatee Club's work and urges others to get involved: “Please help protect endangered manatees and their aquatic habitat for future generations!" (Photo courtesy Mermaid Melissa.)

(Photos by Jessica Yakamna.)



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