Mermaid Echo makes waves by educating the next generation about freshwater conservation
Echo has cared for the water for as long as they can remember.
Growing up along the St. Croix River, they remember taking boat trips with their family to clean up the trash throughout the waterway.
“Since I was a kid, whether consciously or subconsciously, I’ve been trying to find a pathway in life that would put me around water as much as possible,” Echo says. “Now we're here, and I think I'm closer now than I have ever been before.”
Echo, a UW-Milwaukee Freshwater Sciences graduate student, teaches young people at the K-12 level about freshwater systems and conservation through their underwater performances as Mermaid Echo.
“We need to ensure that our futures are going to be okay by providing access to [conservation education] to the kids who it will be affecting the most and who don't have access to it right now,” they said.
Echo says they started mermaiding, or wearing and swimming in a mermaid tail, in 2012 as a way to recover from an ankle injury.
On the same website where they purchased their first mermaid tail, Echo says they discovered an online community of people who use mermaiding as a way to educate young people about environmental conservation.
They say they saw “edutainment,” or education and entertainment, as an outlet that’s allowed them to bridge their passion for conservation education and mermaiding without a science degree.
“I just kept having this itch to get into science and really learn the nitty gritty behind, ‘Why is there only 4% of research done on freshwater ecosystems when everything else is done on marine ecosystems and freshwater is our vital resource for survival?’” Echo says.
After professionally mermaiding for a few years, Echo says they wanted to understand the freshwater access issues Midwestern states face on a deeper level. So they decided to pursue a degree in Freshwater Sciences.
“I told myself I couldn't be a scientist, but I was wrong," Echo says. "Now I'm a scientist and a mermaid.”
In addition to performing at Discovery World, Echo has partnered up with Milwaukee Riverkeeper through the support of a scholarship. They will create and present classroom lessons such as how microplastics and pollution affect freshwater systems.
“[Conservation] is a scary topic,” Echo says. “But if we say to kids, ‘You have the power to be the changemaker that will save our Great Lakes,’ there's a really empowering message there that isn't scary, is accessible and also gives them agency.”
Echo says they will graduate this December and plan to continue to share conservation education through their performances across Milwaukee.
“I don't foresee me not being a mermaid anymore anytime soon,” Echo says. “I'll probably be in a wheelchair and still jump in the lake with my little tail and try to swim around until I’m 85 or something.”
You can watch Mermaid Echo perform at Discovery World on Dec. 16.