SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 17, October 2016 - Page 118

ermaid stories have been a part of folklore since 1000 BC and continue to live on

through the power of suggestion and imagination in both children and adults. Modern mermaid sightings are very rare, but over the past few years, a particular mermaid has been spotted along the Mid-Atlantic seaboard.

Kelly Jo Stull is a marine biologist who left the field behind to pursue performance art. She is entertaining and instructing in aerial/lyra hoops, aerial silks, German wheel and Cyr wheel among other things. Stull missed the science world and decided to mix her performance art with marine education.

Through her Myth of the Mermaid program, Stull appears at children and adult parties as a mermaid. Along with teaching kids how to move like a mermaid, she is instructing them on marine education, conservation awareness and ocean conservancy. Twenty percent of her profits are donated to the Coral Reef Alliance, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Stull grew up in Maryland and began her college career at Towson University in their dance program. She transferred to James Cook University in Australia where she earned her bachelor’s degree in marine biology while diving every day to do extensive research on coral reef disease.

She next spent time in Hawaii working as a dive instructor while she studied to enter graduate school. Stull landed an internship with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center where she worked in oyster recruitment and followed that up by earning her master’s degree in marine science at University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

After graduating, she found work on a BP oil spill for an environmental consulting firm and as a federal government scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The decision to leave her field wasn’t taken lightly.

“My work was funded by “soft money” and we were always looking for the next grant,” says Stull. “I wanted to pursue something on a more personal level. I still believe in the old quote; the cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.”

These days, Stull is happily working with her performance art company, In the Dark, which has featured a show entitled “The Aerial Aquarium”. Her instructional classes can number as many as twenty sessions per week.

As for the Myth of the Mermaid, Stull will continue to advocate for outreach, education and most importantly, conservation. At a recent mermaid event, the 4-year-old birthday girl was quoted as saying, “this is the best day of my life”.

Mermaids are real if you truly believe.