Mermaids have long been associated with the ocean. The mythical being has inspired tales by sailors across the globe with many major cultures having some form of a mermaid in their mythology.
Over the past decade, there’s been a rise in popularity and demand as mermaid performers pushed the envelope of what was possible. Everything from birthday parties, corporate gigs, and large festivals now employ mermaid performers to spread a little magic. With the growing dream to live life as a professional mermaid becoming more popular, it became apparent to NAUI Skin Diving Instructor, Lila Jones, that it was necessary to incorporate dive safety and education into the market.
Jones has been teaching mermaid swim lessons on Maui since 2015. In 2017 she developed an instructor specialty to create a standard which today is becoming the norm among hobbyist and professional mermaids. “I began seeing that a lot of mermaids who do events in the water didn’t necessarily have the knowledge of what happens to your body. Newer inexperienced mermaids needed guidance and a certification program with set standards just made sense.” Jones drew on her knowledge as a diver, marine biologist, and professional mermaid to create a tailored program for mermaids of all skill sets.
The course explores the principles of freediving and breath-hold safety while emphasizing technique and safety topics specific to mermaiding. In addition, mermaids that train with Jones are taught the subtleties for performing and underwater modeling. “When you see a scuba diver or freediver who is experienced and comfortable there’s an artistic quality to their skill set. The focus for mermaids is to embody the artistic side of diving using the same skills but for a broader audience.”
Mermaids are also taught about conservation efforts and how to be effective ambassadors to the ocean. “I noticed a lot of mermaids didn’t quite know how to behave around wildlife and one of my passions as a marine biologist and tour operator is to encourage and educate guests and students about passive wildlife interactions. Mermaids are just as passionate about conservation but some of their methods would undermine their efforts.” Jones travels internationally speaking at events on multiple subjects including chemical contamination of aquatic ecosystems, minimizing tourism’s impact on the environment, and passive wildlife interactions at conventions, aquariums, and festivals. Back on Maui, Jones is active in volunteer research, encouraging wise environmental legislation, and is a board member for the Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawai’i.
While mermaiding may seem far fetched to some, it’s growing presence in pop-culture shows the trend is here to stay. In the four years, Jones has run her mermaid school, Mermaid Dream Retreats, she’s gained over 600 hours of teaching experience and has certified over 30 mermaids at events across the country. Jones even runs week-long excursions to dive locations around the world that teach professional development, conservation, and open water safety. Her 2020 trip to Fiji will include putting mermaids through the NAUI Mermaid Certification Program.
Don’t just take Mermaid Lila’s success as an indication, last year in Virginia 300 mermaids gathered for MerMagic Con which boasted diverse programming for mermaid enthusiasts and professionals. Jones will be attending again this year and speaking on the Eco-Mermaiding panel.
Events like MerMagic Con are growing in popularity. In Michigan, Mermaid MegaFest broke the world record for the number of mermaids in a single location with over 400 mermaids in attendance. The events don’t just attract mermaids, last year, MegaFest had an estimated 3,000 attendees. Jones certified 18 mermaids at last year’s event.
With the Mermaid Program now a part of NAUI standards, Jones is excited that the program will reach more people. “There’s a large international interest in mermaids. I’m only one person so I’m looking forward to how NAUI will expand the program.”