Mermaid Michi started her Tuesday morning out in front of the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) office in Live Oak as she joined protesters fighting a water permit application.
That application could give Nestlé Waters North America the go ahead to pump and bottle a million gallons a day from Ginnie Springs.
For Mermaid Michi, whose real name is Michelle Colson, a 27-year-old environmental and political science major from Marion County, the Santa Fe River and the surrounding springs are near and dear to her heart.
"I have always been a lover of water and our planet," she said. "I grew up in and around water. In middle, high school and college I was always involved in environmental clubs and cleanups."
When Colson moved from South Florida to Central Florida, she said she discovered fresh water springs and got interested in springs conservation.
Her first spring encounter was at Ginnie Springs when she went tubing with friends: "I fell in love with the springs and was connected to them."
After doing some research, she started to locate other springs in the state and discovered nearby Rainbow Springs.
"I read about spring conservation, so I researched the nonprofits involved in saving them," she said.
"In just the last five years of my springs and conservation journey, I see their decline," Colson said about the springs she visits. "Knowing that they were that much better 20 or 30 years ago, it's just sad."
Colson wanted her voice to stand out and she decided it would get lost in human form, so she purchased a mermaid tail and taught herself how to swim while wearing it.
"In my human form my voice wasn't being heard," she said. “As Guardian of the Springs Mermaid Michi, I have a completely different platform.”
In several public service announcements (PSAs) filmed underwater, Mermaid Michi holds up a sign that reads, "Water For Life Not Profit, No To Nestle."
She says the springs are being emptied by bottling plants.
"Florida is one of 14 states predicted to face high-risk water shortages by the year 2050," she says in one PSA, noting the Floridan aquifer is one of the highest producing in the world and supplies drinking water for 10 million people.
"It is being sucked dry by corporations such as Nestlé," she says.
The Suwannee River Water Management District (District) is holding a special governing board meeting today and Wednesday concerning renewal of Seven Springs Water Company’s consumptive use permit.
The meeting is accessible online and open to the public with limited seating capacity. The district is partnering with The FLORIDA Channel to live stream the special meeting with audio and video.
In public statements Nestlé has said it believes it adequately addressed concerns and is supporting efforts to recharge the aquifer.
"It would make no sense to invest millions of dollars into our local operations just to deplete the natural resources on which our business relies," Nestlé's George Ring wrote in a New York Times letter to the editor.
But activists like Colson remain unconvinced. Once the SRWMD meeting started, Mermaid Michi removed her tale and joined the meeting in person. She says stopping the water permit is just the tip of the water conservation iceberg.
"I talk about it all the time," she said. "Nestlé is just a name, but not the only problem. There are bigger problems that need to be addressed."
Colson hopes her PSAs and work with the Florida Springs Council will help fill what she sees as the gap between Florida’s water supply and the people living here.
"Being the Guardian of the Springs is my calling in life," she said. "It's why I am here on this earth."
The SRWMD decision is expected Wednesday.