Miss Mermaid Michigan continues her focus on water crisis awareness

OSCODA – Prior to competing in Miss Mermaid Michigan, as well as during the contest and now after her involvement in the related events, Oscoda resident Elyssa Steward has maintained her fight for clean water.

Steward – who earned the title of Miss Mermaid Michigan 2021 earlier this year – advanced to the next round of the contest, Miss Mermaid USA, which was held in August during MerMagic Con in Manassas, Va.

She used her platform to raise awareness of the state’s water crisis, including the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in her own community.

Steward placed in the top 10 out of the original 52 competitors, counting Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

“The top 25 competed in the water portion of the contest. Based on the points off of that portion of the competition, they chose the top 10,” she explained.

These names were announced during the event’s gala on Aug. 7. The following day, Steward and other members of the top 10 took part in the pageant portion of the contest, where they were graded on stage presence, community activism and interviews.

Miss Mermaid Maryland, Felicia Flaherty, ultimately claimed the title of Miss Mermaid USA. The runner-up and winner of the Miss Mermaid America crown was Miss Mermaid Florida, Nicole Wood. While a date and location has yet to be announced, the two will now be heading to Miss Mermaid International.

As for her involvement during the USA round of the contest, Steward spoke about some of the activities she took part in. For example, on one of the event days, participants were graded on their underwater modeling. “This was whatever you could do based on one breath hold,” she described.

“The second portion was how many laps we could swim with a mono fin on, with a max of 50 yards,” she continued. “They provided our mono fins so the playing field was equal. I was able to complete my 50 yards for a max of 100 points.”

Among her many titles, Steward is a member of the Oscoda community action group, Need Our Water (NOW), which has long been advocating for swifter cleanup of the PFAS contamination in Oscoda, as well as several other water/environmental related goals.

Steward vowed to donate any prize money she received during the mermaid events to NOW and, although she didn’t win, she shared that she has been able to collect donations along the way to help support her mission.

 

“When attending MerMagic Con, [NOW Co-Lead] Mrs. Cathy Wusterbarth and I were able to speak on the conservation panel about what is happening here in Oscoda,” she stated.

“In addition, we worked our own NOW booth which was located right next to the main stage. Overall, I was able to speak about the PFAS contamination and educate over 1,000 people,” Steward noted.

“Although Oscoda is ground zero for the movement, there have been sites popping up all over the United States with similar contaminated areas,” she pointed out. “We encouraged everyone to scan the QR code we provided in order to find out where the contaminations are near them.”

Furthermore, through her advancement in the competition, Steward was asked to work with Aqua Performance Group. The pod, which is headquartered in  Michigan, has traveling mermaid tanks and hosts the MerFest International festival in South Haven.

Steward says she had the pleasure of working at this event, while in the tank, during the weekend of Aug. 21-22.