We had the good fortune of connecting with Nancy Caruso and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nancy, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I am from Alexandria, Virginia. I did not live near the ocean. I had never even seen the ocean when Mrs May, my 4th grade teacher, taught me about oceanography. She was explaining the relatively new theory of plate tectonics (1982) and how these plates moved around under the deep ocean. I asked “what kind of people study these things?” and she said, “Oceanographers”. It was then, that I was hooked by the sea. It wasn’t until a couple years later that I would actually visit the ocean but I had already dedicated my life to it. This idea was not supported by both my parents but my mom helped fight the battles that got me to Florida Tech and a B.S. in Marine Biology. To make it through college, there were a lot of obstacles including my dad, who wanted me to be a nurse in the army. He was fearful I would never find a job. His fears were founded in truth. It is very difficult to have a career in this field. Plenty of work for volunteers and low minimum wage work but careers are hard to come by. I worked 2 jobs while in college, took on lots of student and personal debt, and when offered my dream job at SeaWorld, fresh out of college, I had to turn it down because I could not afford to work for them for $9.00/hour in 1995. I was making much more as a waitress and I had bills to pay. I eventually took a job in Mississippi working in the aquaculture industry. I had actually double majored in college in aquaculture. I sold fish farming equipment and to set the stage for the rest of my life, I worked a second job in a catfish hatchery (raising baby catfish). I have held two or more jobs pretty much my whole life. All in an effort to do what I love… working in the ocean. in 2009, after being laid off from three different non profit organizations “doing what I love” I started Get Inspired. It is a 501c3 charity dedicated to “inspiring stewardship and curiosity for the natural world through the exploration of science”. I have taught 12,000 kids to grow species ( aquaculture) that I am restoring the in the ocean ( marine biology) and trained more than 300 volunteer divers to help me with this important work. We have restored giant kelp forests that were gone for more than 2 decades and we are now restoring green abalone, white sea bass, and pismo clams. I still have to work multiple jobs but I am a marine biologist, working in the ocean, doing what I love, on my own terms now. www.GetInspiredinc.org
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started Get Inspired, a non profit organization, because I kept getting laid off from my other non profit jobs but It was the best decision because it made me take a risk. It made me very connected to my passion and when people see it, they want to help me. It was very hard to start a non profit business. By definition, I was not going to make a profit! I have been running it for 10 years and just this year, I was able to pay myself a full time salary. That is a big deal. It is very difficult to make a living by getting people interested in algae and snails. I do ocean restoration. That means I pick organisms that we have overfished or destroyed over time and try to bring them back to avoid extinction. Not many people do this work because its hard. I have to fight for permits and permissions from local, state and federal government to put things back in the ocean that should already be there. It takes a LONG time, funders don’t like funding things that take a long time. They like to save a whale and move on to something else. It is hard to find people who want to support my work. What people do like is that I don’t do it alone or with a small group of scientists, I do it with kids! I teach kids through year long classroom programs to grow the species that I am restoring. I train everyday citizens to help me do the science underwater. I do community based ocean restoration projects in Orange County, CA and we have already successfully restored our kelp forests which were gone for more than 25 years. We are now working on saving green abalone, white seabass, and Pismo clams. Kelp forests are the rainforests of the sea with more than 800 species relying on them! Some of the students I have taught over my career are now marine biologists! Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we were all INSPIRED?
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would take them diving in our kelp forests! Like saintly mammoth cathedrals, the kelp forest sways in the ocean surge, providing food and shelter for more than 800 species. Sunlight bends and twinkles on the bottom of the ocean as it backlights the kelp fronds like a stained glass window. It’s like visiting an aquarium except it never closes, and its free!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to give thanks to Mrs. May (who I tracked down to thank) for inspiring me. She said, she taught us that lesson because she had wanted to be an oceanographer and never realized that dream. I want to appreciate my mom for fighting the battles to help me go to college. I should thank my dad for making me prove him wrong my whole life. Lastly, I thank my husband for telling me, “you are a bird…fly” when I was debating whether to take a good paying job or start a non profit organization.
Linkedin: Nancy L. Caruso
Facebook: Get Inspired