Sun Chasers: Not all heroes wear crocs, but underwater they do

Sun Chasers: Not all heroes wear crocs, but underwater they do


Most Southern Californians brand themselves as “ocean lovers” and we can’t argue with that, but when you meet Lunada Bay raised scientific diver Olivia Carmack, being an ocean lover takes on a new meaning. 

“I grew up exploring the tide pools and going to the beach, which sparked an early fascination for the ocean,” shared Carmack.

Carmack's ocean centered community sparked her
interest in marine biology at an early age.

If you’ve ever met a marine biologist, you realize the ocean bug is real, and if you catch it, you catch it early. Olivia already knew ocean conservation would be in the cards, well before entering college. Before her 20th birthday Olivia was open water scuba diving and contributing to USC’s kelp biofuel project. She started to make waves in the scientific diving community and landed a prestigious research job after college with the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce, Florida. 

At Smithsonian, Carmack has been researching stony coral tissue loss disease outbreak along the Florida reef tract and using probiotics to treat the disease. Olivia’s second project with Smithsonian focuses on understanding reef based chemical cues that may attract coral larvae and juvenile fish to settle on a coral reef. This project takes place on Smithsonian’s Carrie Bow Cay field station in Belize where she made 11 trips to conduct experiments on the surrounding reefs.

When conducting field work she is in the sun from sunrise to sunset, mineral sunscreen is a critical part of her daily routine. Carmack preached, “make it a habit to apply sunscreen when you are getting ready for the day. My rule is that I have to apply sunscreen before I get my cherished cup of coffee to make sure I have a solid layer of sunscreen on before I go into the sun." We’re with you Olivia, “but first, sunscreen” has a nice ring to it. 

Chemical based sunscreens and coral have been notoriously linked, and is top of mind with Hawaii banning all chemical sunscreens starting January 2021 to aid in reef restoration and recovery. Carmack gave her thoughts on what we can solve when it comes to the rapid decline of our coral reefs, “I think a problem related to reefs that is the most easily solvable right now is public awareness and education. There are so many great education organizations and online resources that anyone can look into to learn about coral reefs and how they can personally help to save them. It is really important that the general public is educated on the importance of coral reefs because it fosters a greater connection to this precious ecosystem.”

Ocean education isn't something new to Olivia, alongside fellow researcher Emily Nixon, the pair developed a marine education program for elementary schools across Los Angeles. Carmack gave us some intel on the program that was started back while attending USC, "We created interactive lesson plans using virtual reality to immerse the students into the underwater world and took 120 students on a field trip to Cabrillo Aquarium. Our overarching goal is to immerse as many kids as possible below the blue line, that is our ocean’s surface!”

Carmack and Nixon have been awarded a grant in April 2020, 
to continue the Under The Blue Line educational program.

When asked why she has dedicated so much of her life to the deep blue Carmack shared, “So much inspires me to continue working in our oceans! There is a whole world beneath the surface, so much beauty and so much life, and we have only explored a fraction of it. From what we have explored, like coral reefs and kelp forest, we understand the value of these precious ecosystems, yet at the same time we are destroying it."

(All photos credit of Olivia Carmack instagram @OliveCarmack)


Lani + Kai Sun Chasers is a series on inspirationals who live their lives outside.
Olivia’s Smithsonian team is currently in the process of analyzing all data on her recent reef projects, and we will share her findings with the Lani & Kai community when results are published.
Interested in Olivia and Emily’s award winning marine education program? Contact to get involved.

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