Melissa often spends hours in the water dressed as a mermaid. Image Credit: Supplied

Melissa, how did you become a professional mermaid?

I was always a water baby who loved spending hours in swimming pools and visiting aquariums and oceans. As a child my imagination was further fanned by watching movies such as The Little Mermaid” and “Splash”. In my teens I studied Marine Biology at school and was always reading up about sea animals. So, when it came to choosing a profession I found the perfect balance by becoming a mermaid as it allowed me to be in water the whole time, close to marine life and get paid for what I loved doing.

How did you train yourself?

At the age of 12, I learnt that I could hold my breath underwater for more than two and half minutes. Everyone called me a fish. When I was 13 my family moved from Saint Augustine, Florida to Orlando, the theme park entertainment capital. I did several jobs at an early age including modeling, acting and worked even as a cage cleaner in an animal actor show at Universal Studios, Orlando. I was also simultaneously pursuing scuba diving courses and got PADI certification in 2005. The certification gave me the confidence to do something that comes naturally to me. I started working on my static apnea breath and succeeded to hold my breath underwater for five minutes. The next step was to work with marine mammals and in aquariums. For over 10 years I worked as a dive manager, marine mammal trainer and show host in marine life parks, theme parks and aquariums. Working as a mermaid was a childhood fantasy and a self-made journey born out of the love for the sea. It took years of hard work to be a professional mermaid and to finally set up my own company.

What does your job involve and what does your company do?

Doing mermaid shows and live aquarium performances at various types of venues including private parties, hotels, fairs, festivals and fundraisers. Besides the shows my company also provides customised mermaid tails, mermaid tanks, equipment and a full aquatic performance team.

How do you transform into a mermaid? What does it take to keep the fantasy alive at shows.

The mermaid tail is like a corset with a pair of leather trousers stitched together. I own 16 such tails, each weighing around 25 kgs in various colours, all handmade from silicone. I am always living the mermaid life, in and out of water, so the transformation is life-long. When I don my mermaid tail it becomes more real for others. It’s important to keep the magic alive for the audience, especially for children. At my shows a merman would carry me to the water’s edge and I just slide into the tank or the pool. You can see the wonder in their eyes as I perform.

What do you like the most about your job?

The fact that I get to entertain people doing what brings me joy too. My profession also gives me the opportunity to spread the message of ocean conservation and protection of sea creatures. I feel I am a mascot for marine animals, who don’t have a voice. My message to the world is, “Let’s help save the oceans before all creatures become mythical.” For this I am actively involved in several ocean projects that generate awareness about our fragile underwater eco system. I swim with sea animals for photo shoots, documentary films and independent movies.

Tell us your most unforgettable moments as a mermaid?

There have been many unforgettable moments for me – most cherished from them include swimming in the Caribbean Sea with stingrays, eels, sea stars or diving in shipwrecks and exploring the local culture of the Cayman Islands in close presence of beautiful coral reefs or in Australia when I performed in a giant fish tank that was 40 feet long in a live public event. Swimming along giant Manta Rays, sharks, dolphins, humpback whales and thousands of marine life in harmony at The Great Barrier Reef was amazing. I have also had the opportunity to travel and perform in various international destinations including Japan, Australia, Dubai, Mexico, Bahamas, Jamaica, Honduras, Germany, Portugal, Italy and London.

Are there any challenges that a mermaid has to face?

My mermaid costume is quite heavy, it’s a full body workout because you are constantly lifting your tail and you can get cramps. You also need to train your heart, lungs and the mind to stay calm for long hours in the water. Sometimes I am in cold water for hours and my fingers look all pruned. I have to dive 40 feet and this is hard for the ears and one is prone to ear infections. I also have to watch what I eat to be able to fit into my bodysuit and also sustain the mermaid look. Of course I have been mistaken at times as lunch by other sea creatures. In the Cayman Islands a bow-mouthed guitar fish put his mouth on my hand as I was waving at the crowd and crunched my fingers. I have also been stung by jelly fishes.

What attracts people to the fantasy of mermaids?

The mystery and the beauty surrounding a half woman and half fish excites people and creates a sense of wonder that is captivating. I am often asked if I am real and if there are real mermaids out there. And I tell them there are great big oceans and who knows what’s inside them. I am as close to a real mermaid they can see.