Monterey Bay Aquarium Volunteer Marv Tuttle Named Sea Hero
First certified at 21, after he returned home from the Vietnam War, Marv Tuttle had been out of the water for years when a 1998 motorcycle accident seemed to end his diving for good. But that was just the beginning. Tuttle, who is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s first wheelchair-using volunteer diver, is participant coordinator for the aquarium’s Days of Discovery, which for nearly 20 years have given kids 8 to 14 who have disabilities a chance to try a modified form of scuba diving. For exposing kids to the joys of the underwater world and helping to build the next generation of ocean advocates, Tuttle is our August 2019 Sea Hero.
Courtesy Marv Tuttle
Marv Tuttle and his dog, Yara
Q: You were a diver before your injury— how did you get back in the water?
A: In the hospital I was introduced to the pool and discovered that, in that weightless environment, I didn’t feel disabled.
Q: How did you get involved at the Monterey Bay Aquarium?
A: I met a couple of divers from the aquarium who were taken by the fact that I was diving with a disability and that I was a wheelchair user. They said the aquarium’s dive department had been thinking about adding a diver to the team and asked if I would be interested. I said, “Wow, yes.”
I have had four volunteer roles at the aquarium. My first was maintenance and exhibit diver. A couple of years later I started working as a guide on the other side of the glass. The first year I volunteered, the aquarium started the Days of Discovery programs, which provide a scuba experience for kids with disabilities, free of charge. I also sit on a volunteer committee that helps to identify opportunities to improve accessibility.
Q: What kind of impact has Days of Discovery made on the kids?
A: Days of Discovery allows kids with disabilities the opportunity to try something that in most cases they would never have a chance to try. These are kids who never get invited to parties, sleepovers, dances or even to just hang out. When they discover that they can do this, they feel confident to take on other challenges. The hope is also that “typical” kids will look at them in a different light.
Q: Why is it important to get involved?
A: Being a volunteer isn’t for everyone, but at an institution like the Monterey Bay Aquarium it’s a joy. As a nonprofit institution, the aquarium exists through the kindness of others. To be part of a program dedicated to saving the oceans is one of the finest things a diver can do.
Courtesy Marv Tuttle
Tuttle, center, and friends at Monterey Bay Aquarium's Days of Discovery.
Q: What do you view as the greatest challenges in marine conservation?
A: Global climate change. Over-fishing—bycatch affects many species, such as sharks—and pollution also are of serious concern. At the aquarium I’m given the opportunity to discuss our “Seafood Watch” program, which teaches sustainability. I am also able to narrate exhibits dedicated to the plastics issue and other forms of pollution—I have a perfect opportunity to reach out to kids who I know will take the message forward.
Q: What’s been your most satisfying moment?
A: When a young woman approached me and asked if I remembered her from Days of Discovery many years ago and how I showed her around behind the scenes at the aquarium. I was pretty sure that I did remember her and asked how she was doing. She was so proud to share that she was going to university, studying marine science, and hoped to become a marine biologist.
Q: What’s been your most surprising moment? A: When one of my kids shared an experience with me—as most of us know, no one can be meaner to kids than kids, right? She explained that she was always singled out at school and often bullied. When her teacher asked what they did during the summer break, this young lady shared her scuba experience at the aquarium—she felt that the other kids were impressed with the idea and looked at her in a different way. Good stuff!
Q: Who are your sea heroes?
A: I’m old enough to remember Mike Nelson from the old TV show Sea Hunt. I always wanted to dive after watching that show. Today my sea heroes are the more than 100 volunteer divers at the aquarium who have put in years of service, including being dive buddies during Days of Discovery. They are all part of a list of those looking to conserve the oceans.
Q: Is there anything we did not ask that you would like readers to know?
A: There are many things we do in life that are driven by a paycheck. Paychecks are important, but for many of us, pay comes in different forms. Helping organizations to perform work that wouldn’t be possible without volunteers is a feel-good experience!