Ladies and Mer-men: Grab your fins and seashells.

On any given weekend, Key West is a city that’s full of surprises. From “evil” dolls to six-toed cats, there are plenty of eccentricities to behold in this laid-back island paradise.

And on one particular weekend this summer, those out-of-the-ordinary sights will include dozens of mermaids gathering to do what they do best: swim, socialize, and spout crucial information about how we can save our seas.

The Key West Mermaid Festival, held July 5 through 7, is the first-of-its-kind celebration on the islands, drawing mermaids from across North America (yes, there are even mermaids in the Midwest and Canada) as well as visitors with a love for the mystical ocean creatures (meaning: all of us). Held at locations throughout the southernmost island, the three-day extravaganza includes events such as breakfast with mermaids, ocean-themed arts and craft shows, parades, blue-themed nighttime parties, and an opportunity to strap on a tail and unleash your own spirit mermaid in the crystal-clear sea.

Courtesy of Kristi Mills

The unique festival is the brainchild of Head Mermaid Kristi Mills, a Key West native and owner of a local boutique that’s—surprise—all about mermaids. Mills says that, growing up in the Keys surrounded by water helped her develop an interest in mermaids early on. “Being born and raised in Key West and the granddaughter of a commercial fisherman, my sister and I learned to swim before we could walk or talk and spent the majority of our childhood in the ocean,” Mills says. “We used to bind our ankles with shoelaces or scarves and pretend that we were mermaids.” Today, in addition to selling mermaid tails in her shop, she’s part of a small “pod” of mermaids on the island who host events and make appearances at parties and schools to educate children on ocean conservation and swim safety.

Living Water Images

The festival—geared toward both kid and adult mermaid fans—was a natural progression and a way to spread that message on a broader level. “On the surface, it is a festival of fun, bringing together a school of mermaid enthusiasts oceanwide,” says Mills on the festival website. “But, dive a little deeper and you'll see that the real treasure of this event is in creating an awareness for two topics that are extremely important to, and close to the hearts of, the mermaid community everywhere—ocean conservation and swimming safely with mermaid tails.”

Jeri Vizzi

In addition to spreading the ocean love through education, the Mermaid Festival also plans to donate a portion of all profits from event tickets throughout the weekend to Reef Relief, a non-profit dedicated to improving and protecting our reef ecosystems.

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Now, really, who doesn’t want to be part of this world? Find out more information about this fin-tastic festival here. Going for the week? Here are 15 more fun things to do in Key West.

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