If you’re as new to this topic as I was before talking to Madelline Sánchez, let me first assure you: yes. It’s a thing. For Madelline, it all started when she first fell in love with diving about five years ago.
“I’d gone through a breakup, and I was looking for something. Photography? Hiking? The gym? I found diving,” she says. “The Little Mermaid says that under the sea there are no problems, only bubbles. With bubbles, I was super happy.”
Having already obtained her certification from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), she made the decision in 2020 to specialize further. Madelline explains that PADI developed its mermaid courses in part because of an increasing interest by untrained swimmers in freestyle diving with a mermaid tail—which can be dangerous without safety knowledge and practice. Through the course, which she took in Mexico, divers learn the responsible use of the tail, or monofin.
But it’s also a unique entry point into a greater understanding of our power to protect marine ecosystems, the diver explains.
“The program is really focused on ecology,” she says. “We’re going to use eco-friendly sunblock. No more plastic straws. We’re going to wear long sleeves” to avoid polluting the water with skin products.
According to the PADI website, its mermaid trainings combine that ecological mission; some of the mystical beauty you might expect (“mermaiding” as “an underwater self-expressive art”); and skills such as rescue techniques. Why rescue techniques? It comes in handy. Just weeks ago, three mermaids participating in a PADI course off Catalina Island in California rescued a diver in distress.
Fired up by her underwater training, Madelline, a business administrator with a master’s in project management, partnered with Hotel Punta Leona on the Central Pacific coast to create Costa Rica’s first PADI Mermaid Center. The center offers courses at a variety of levels, with pool sessions (from age six) and ocean sessions (from age 12), as well as photography packages and special events. A Mermaid Club option even offers sessions in the San José area.
But even if a mermaid session isn’t in your near future, Madelline has a message for you. She’s learned a few things along her path to mermaid certification about the things we can all do our part to protect our oceans.
- Avoid sunblock—just cover up! As far as ocean conservation is concerned, the best strategy of all is to use long-sleeve UV protection and hats so you can avoid sunblock altogether.
- If you do need sunblock, make it reef-friendly.
- Avoid single-use plastics at all costs.
- Clean up after yourself (no matter where you are—garbage from just about anywhere can end up in the sea).
- If you dive near reefs, be very careful not to bump into and damage them.
- Never touch marine life.
- Don’t remove shells.
And learn more about Mermaids Costa Rica here.