Dida Kutz is founder and publisher of http://www.blueplanetdivers.org/, a website that connects research institutions with potential science diver candidates, as well as editor of Point Lobos Magazine in Monterey.
You appear to have devoted your life to the ocean. What started you on that path?
Gosh, a lot of things. I was an avid reader as a kid and our family had that Time-Life Nature Library, and my favorite book in that library was the one entitled The Sea. I also read Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us. And my dad built a sailboat in the backyard over four years and we used to sail out to the Channel Islands quite a bit. Actually, I enjoyed that the most of us three kids, and he and I used to take trips out there ourselves. In fact, I was completely blissed out by those trips, and fascinated by the huge pods of dolphins in the channel, the shark frenzies we sometimes encountered while we were trolling for fish, and of course by my dad scuba diving at Santa Cruz Island. So it was a combination of things, not one single event
What accomplishments would you like readers to know about?
In the mid 90s, while in grad school, I volunteered for California Fish and Game (CA DFG) and conducted a number of surveys of groundfish off the Big Sur coast under the direction of the late Dave Ventresca. The data that I helped collect eventually helped advise scientific advisory boards on how to determine where MPAs should be placed on the Central Cal coast. I was just part of a team of divers, but it’s work but I’m very proud of, and also still offers me some of the best memories of my life. Though I was a broke graduate student, not much since then has beat diving, for sometimes 10 days at a time, off the Big Sur coast with a small crew and an awesome group of research divers. Not even research diving in Borneo!
Oh yeah, I guess getting inducted into the Explorers Club September of last year counts as a pretty big accomplishment too!
[Note: according to the Explorers Club website, they do not add an apostrophe in their name.]
What ocean-related projects have been dear to your heart?
The California Fish and Game surveys off the Big Sur coast I talked about above. Also, Reef Check California, which I was involved with from just before its actual inception in California. Chris Haugen, my late partner, and I conducted the first central California survey off Point Lucas in Carmel in June 2006. That site is fairly exposed, and the Coral Street site is now surveyed twice a year in lieu of the Point Lucas site.
I’m also a volunteer diver at the Monterey Bay aquarium, and of course that’s a fun place to be twice a month
Who has been influential to you in your study and love of the ocean?
My mother and father.
I understand you have been accepted into the Explorers Club? How did that come about?
I was working as a naturalist on the shark cage diving trip at the Farallon Islands aboard the White Holly. Naturally, the crew shares some stories, and based on what little he heard from me, a gentleman aboard, Bob Higgens, invited me to a meeting of the Explorers Club in Tiburon. I was floored, as I knew about the prestigious Explorers Club (and had fantasized about gaining membership in it-wondering how the heck how!), but acted cool and accepted the invitation.
At that meeting I met a woman who’d just been inducted and lives near me in the Monterey area. She forwarded some information to me about a gathering of the Explorers Club members and their friends on San Juan Island. I ended up going by myself, not knowing a soul, and was amazed at how comfortable I was with this group of strangers.
They were positive, fun, open, and of course adventurous! A few people offered to co-sponsor me (Bob was my initial sponsor), and I went home with an application. The application is pretty intense, kind of like applying to grad. school, and it sat on my living room table for about six months until I finally sent it off.
Iteared up when I received the e-mail last September from Alan Nichols, president of the Northern California chapter, that I’d been accepted. It’s an incredible honor, and every time I meet with my fellow members, I am renewed by their energy, and moved by their compassion and commitment.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Support conservation of this precious blue planet in any way you can. You don’t have to to be grand in your actions, small changes in your lifestyle and encouraging your friends to make those changes can make huge differences in the end. Conservation begins with awareness. Also remember that all is not lost; for instance, there are heat resistant corals (or rather, heat-resistant algae that live within corals), and so not ALL coral reefs are doomed. It’s important to pay attention to the positive stories in conservation also.
And specifically, do what you can to create awareness for conservation of the vaquita, the world’s most endangered cetacean species. Only 250 of these animals are left in their natural habitat in the northern part of the Sea of Cortez.
Visit www. vivavaquita.org to learn more, join the cause and stay informed at http://www.facebook.com/vivavaquita, and purchase merchandise that goes toward supporting the cause to save them at http://www.printfection.com/vivavaquita.
Fortunately, the Mexican government is fully committed to saving this little porpoise, and the International Whaling Commission, during their recent meeting in Morocco, publicly stated that gillnets should be banned in the northern Sea of Cortez in order to save the vaquita.
Sidenote: I first heard of the vaquita in 1993 when I first entered grad school, but couldn’t find anyone to work with then. Though it’s 17 years later, it’s not too late to save them.
Oh, one more thing–I’m always looking for scientific divers to contribute articles to my website www.blueplanetdivers.org. Just about any aspect of research diving is fine, from techniques to research progress reports. Years ago, I envisioned the site as a place to share knowledge both with other sci-divers and the general public, and it’s been an effort to steer it that way.
Please email Dida at [email protected] if this is something that might interest you.