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This Mermaid is Making ‘A Splash’ in Florida’s Springs

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Professional mermaid Michelle Colson, our latest Wild Floridian feature, uses her platform to raise awareness about Florida’s freshwater springs

Michelle Colson swam before she walked. Raised near the ocean in a small Mexican town, her love for the water and “The Little Mermaid” began early. Unlike many childhood passions that fade over time, Michelle carried hers into her adult life in Florida, and turned them into her full-time job—a professional mermaid (yes, they’re real!).

Attracting millions of views on social media, Michelle dives in shimmering, rainbow-colored tails to educate people about Florida’s freshwater springs, many of which are in the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

Whether through educational TikTok videos, children’s coloring books or local activism, this “Guardian of the Springs” — her mer-name — makes it easy for anyone to take small steps to protect Florida’s precious places.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Live Wildly: Not a lot of people can put “professional mermaid” on their résumé. How did your mermaid journey begin?

Michelle Colson: It started about six years ago when I was in college in Tampa and one of my friends knew that I was obsessed with mermaids and loved “The Little Mermaid” when I was younger. I didn’t even know this existed, but my friend got me a red mermaid tail. Of course, I couldn't wait to get in the water with it, so I took it to the beach that day. It just so happened that there were these older ladies walking by and one of them told me that it was her daughter’s birthday in a week and the party was mermaid themed. She asked me if I would be a mermaid at the party, and I said sure!

For about two years, I did mermaid events just by word of mouth. I was getting gigs left and right in my local area for little kids’ birthday parties just for fun and a little bit of extra income while I was in college. It wasn't until 2019 that I started looking for mermaid gatherings because I wanted to know if there were more mermaids out there. In Miami, I found this mermaid who was organizing an event for the Guinness World Records for the largest underwater cleanup. She wanted us to come help clean up as mermaids for the event. I showed up and, lo and behold, there were actual professional mermaids! They told me that I could do this mermaid thing for real as an actual job. I decided that this was what I wanted to do — I love mermaids, so why not? It’s just evolved from there.

Live Wildly Fact: Michelle’s static underwater breath hold record is 4 minutes and 27 seconds!

LW: Did you always feel a connection to the springs?

MC: It wasn't until I moved to Central Florida and got invited to go tubing down the Santa Fe River that I first learned about the springs. It was always a dream of mine to see clear water and I thought that I would need to go to Bali or Thailand to see it. But as we're tubing down this river there was a clear spring and I absolutely fell in love.

I'm a very research-oriented person, so as soon as I knew that clear springs existed in Florida, I started researching where there were more. I came across the Florida Springs Institute and saw on one of their maps that I'd been living 15 minutes away from one of the clearest rivers in the U.S. — Rainbow Springs — and I had no idea. I went to Rainbow Springs and read a sign that shows what happens to the springs and why we need to save them. I did even more research and started volunteering for the Florida Springs Institute and my passion for the springs spiraled from there.

Live Wildly Fact: Rainbow Springs State Park is part of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

LW: It seems like that’s the case for a lot of Floridians — some have no idea that these beautiful places exist right in their backyards.

MC: One thing that I’ve noticed is that a lot of people from South Florida or Orlando literally have no idea because they're not exposed to or close to these places. Even though I was living really close to a spring, I didn't even know. I've come across people who have been living in Florida for 20 years without knowing that there’s a crystal-clear spring 20 minutes away from their house. It's not something that is talked about here in Florida. When people think of Florida, they think of beaches, Disney or Key West — the last thing they think about is fresh, clean water.

LW: How did your career evolve from a professional mermaid to a freshwater springs activist known as “Guardian of the Springs?”

MC: After finding out there were more springs and doing research, I was astounded as I learned more about the springs and their degradation. I remember one of the first things I read was how several springs that used to flow in Florida are no longer flowing because they’ve been sucked dry, and now they’re just holes in the ground. For me, that was really scary because I stumbled upon the most wonderful thing in the world and then learned we're destroying it at a faster pace than it can regenerate itself.

I knew I needed to do my part, which is why I started going to meetings and becoming an activist in my own human form. I didn't merge mermaids and activism until I realized through TikTok that people were listening to me more when I would post content underwater in my tail, than when I would post as a regular human. All of a sudden people from not only Florida, but all over the world were caring about my videos. After that, my way of thinking about being a mermaid shifted. I started realizing this is bigger than just me trying to get the word out about saving the springs — I also have to help other merfolk become more eco-friendly mermaids because a pretty picture is not worth a turtle eating your gem that may fall off while you’re swimming.

My passion for saving the springs and getting people to know about them led me to think, “What is a good name that people could know me as that involves what I'm doing?” and “Guardian of the Springs” stood out to me. I feel like this is my calling. I don't care if I box myself into this as “Guardian of the Springs” because this is what I'm here to do. I chose it and it stuck around. And it has made a splash.

LW: It certainly has. Is there a moment from your activism that sticks out to you?

MC: One of my former roommates is also a mermaid and her mom would always purchase a specific brand of water bottles. After several months of me trying to educate her and tell her why she doesn’t want to buy these water bottles, eventually one day she came up to me and said, “Hey, I want you to know I no longer buy those water bottles.” From somebody who has been buying these water bottles for their whole life — that's huge. That is what I want. I want to inspire people to do things like that.

LW: What do you ultimately hope to accomplish through your activism?

MC: My ultimate hope is for Floridians — and really the United States and world — to realize that what we have here in Florida is unique. It’s what I consider to be one of the wonders of the world. If we don't protect it, then Florida is not going to be a livable state because we're literally ruining it. A lot of people don't realize that the springs are connected to the ocean, and if our springs, rivers and oceans are not healthy, then we cannot sustain life here.

Florida is already a state where it’s hard to sustain life — it doesn't have the infrastructure to continue to have all these people moving here and not knowing what they're moving into or how to protect Florida and its waters. There are people in Florida who don't have access to clean water and to me, that’s crazy. How do we have the largest concentration of freshwater springs in the world, yet there are Floridians who do not have access to clean water? That is just astounding to me, and it's also alarming.

In light of all this, ultimately, my goal is to reach as many people in the world as possible, raise awareness and show people how they can start living a more eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle one day at a time. I'm not perfect – I'm still learning and getting rid of things that I use, such as plastics, but I also do this activism. It’s all about doing what you can. I want to show people that change is not going to happen overnight, but even if you stop buying plastic bottles, that's huge. Every little step counts. It’s not an overwhelming process and it’s something that people can do, day by day.

LW: What does the Florida Wildlife Corridor mean to you?

MC: The Florida Wildlife Corridor signifies life in Florida — Florida’s lifeline. It’s what Florida's environment is capable of doing and how diverse it is. It’s not just the springs, it’s literally such a diverse ecosystem that signifies the health of Florida. If the Florida Wildlife Corridor continues to get beaten up by our laws, government and its own people and residents, then Florida will not be a livable state.

LW: What’s next for you?

MC: A lot of what's going on in Florida depends on the people that we put in office. I want to let people know that they should keep in mind what the person that they're voting for is doing for Florida’s environment. Right now, I attend local and water management meetings, and I’m involved in our local government, but I’m hoping to eventually be one of the people sitting in either a water management district board or becoming a senator who can pass bills. I don't want to be the person asking these people to do things, I want to be the person doing them.

LW: How do you “Live Wildly” in your daily life?

MC: For me, the term “Live Wildly” signifies living a life that is different from what everybody else thinks, right? I don't have a regular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job; my work is Florida and saving this resource that we have here. Living Wildly means living in Florida and experiencing what Florida has for me. That’s why I'm always traveling around Florida because I want to know every inch of this beautiful state and what I can do to help. Living Wildly is living in the wild, being a part of it and learning what I can do as a person to help this wild place that we have.

To learn more, check out Michelle’s social media @GuardianOfTheSprings.

*All photos credit of Michelle Colson, @GuardianOfTheSprings.


“Wild Floridians” is a monthly original series that highlights Floridians across the state who embody the Live Wildly spirit and support conservation in unique ways. Do you know a Wild Floridian? Submit them for consideration here!

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Econfina Creek
Photo by Carlton Ward, Jr.
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