Meet Sara Kulins, a mermaid who traveled across the world to be here in New Zealand

She teaches outdoor and marine education at the Sir Peter Blake Marine Education and Recreation Centre

Sara Kulins for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

Snorkelling on the west coast of Oahu with some of my favourite creatures. Sara Kulins for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople


Where were you born, and where do you live now?

I was born on Long Island, New York, but three years ago I came to New Zealand to gain experience at Leigh Marine Lab. I stayed working several months at the lab and at Goat Island Dive shop meanwhile falling in love with New Zealand and a young man, Ben. We now live on a boat together in Gulf Harbour, it’s an amazing lifestyle for two people that love the ocean.

Where are your favorite waters?

Such a difficult question since there are different reasons for loving so many places!

Recently in may I was in Hawaii, and spent a good amount of time snorkelling and freediving with turtles, dolphins and amazing reef fish. Along the West Coast and the North Shore of Oahu were my favourite spots, Maui was amazing as well.

However, the Great Barrier Reef and the marine megafauna of the east coast of Australia is where I fell in love with diving and had my first encounter with Sea turtles and Mantas, and I got totally hooked on being under the water.

The Hauraki Gulf is pretty much my backyard now, and it’s an amazing place to have a boat! I’ve done more dives here than I have anywhere else, its unique biodiversity and lush kelp forests are enchanting. It’s also the only place I have experienced so much recreational boating – my partner and I have spent many nights out on anchor tucked into a quiet bay at any of the ‘treasure islands’ in the Hauraki Gulf.

How does water make you feel?

It makes me feel whole. Whenever I’m not near the ocean it’s like my body still yearns for it. It’s hard to describe really but I think the ocean reflects my mood, you can almost share emotions with it because the surface of the water is constantly changing, I think the energy I get from the water changes when it’s calm vs when it’s choppy. Rough seas give me adrenaline!

Sara Kulins wake-riding for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

Sara Kulins wake-riding for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

Would you please share a favourite water memory or two?

My favourite underwater encounter was way back when I was doing my Advanced Open Water Certification, still pretty new to diving at that point and on our first dive at Stradbroke Island, QLD, we went around this big rock and this Manta Ray came right up next to me. I was beside myself. They are just incredibly majestic and I was in awe.

Another favourite is swimming with spinner dolphins that were just passing through this Bay we were snorkelling in. They were only with us for a few moments but it was amazing hearing them clicking and looking at us as they travelled through some amazingly clear water off the west coast of Oahu.


How do you incorporate nature in your life, and the way you make a living?

First off, I love my job, and I am blessed to be doing a job I am so passionate about. I am an educator at Sir Peter Blake Marine Education and Recreation Centre. I am determined to inspire everyone to care about the ocean. Students visit on school camps and other groups/organisations come to us for fun filled days of activities and education.

You’ll often hear me explaining to kids how the ocean is like earth’s life support system and talk about the phytoplankton which provide us with so much of the oxygen we breathe! I am so lucky that my job is ocean focused, that I get to be the one to introduce the ocean to lots of visitors to MERC. I want to offer them the best ocean experience ever and then maybe they will love it and care more about it.

Sara Kulins for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

Me driving tender: Most days when there’s no strong wind advisory I take my little boat with a 15hp outboard, to Long Bay from Gulf Harbour. It’s my favourite mode of travel. Sara Kulins for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

Why do you do what you do?

I love being an educator because I know I am in a position to make a big impact on those that I interact with, I try and educate about how detrimental plastic is to our environment, encourage people to reduce waste, advocate for the Sharks (they are not big bad creatures!) and just open their eyes to the diversity that lives below the surface of that ‘big blue blanket’. I know I can influence people with my stories and photos and that’s not limited to students but with everyone I meet, all visitors to MERC, my friends, travelers I meet, literally everyone.

Do you have a side ‘hustle’, a passion project? Do you find it blends nicely with your ‘day job’? Tell us more

My ‘passion project’ is my photography, I enjoy sharing with others the diverse life that lives in the water, be it rock pool critters, fish, dolphins, whales, or tiny sea slaters; they are all fun to photograph.

My ride to work is a 3.5m inflatable with a 15hp Yamaha and I travel 4.5 nautical miles (8.3km) from Gulf Harbour to Long Bay and back on an almost daily basis (sea conditions permitting) so I really do get some awesome opportunities to photograph sunrises and sunsets on the water, seabirds and the occasional marine mammal.

At work I get some great opportunities to photograph students having their first experiences on boats or first attempts at surfing, paddleboarding or kayaking! I love capturing the smiles and splashes of people enjoying the ocean.

Sara Kulins for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

Sara Kulins for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

What happens when you don’t have time for nature?

I stress out, it’s as simple as that. I know I need the time outdoors and on days it’s not part of my work schedule, I need to get out and do something. It keeps my mind clear and helps me be calm.

Could you please share a time or experience where you felt lost in the crowd, like a tiny, insignificant drop?

When I first came to NZ I wasn’t sure where my place really was or what my next step would be. I had my undergrad degree and a backpack and I was looking for a job. It was a big change for me coming from busy Long Island to the small town of Leigh and I felt a little lost in the beginning.

How did you turn that around, and how did you get back to feeling like you were a whole Ocean in a Drop?

It didn’t take too long for me to settle in though, I filled my time with being an assistant to some research happening at Leigh Marine Lab, worked on several different projects and got a job at Goat Island Dive shop. I spent my free time running along coastal tracks, snorkelling and diving and exploring; these things made me feel more like a whole ocean in a drop.

Sara Kulins for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

Sara Kulins for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

Is there anything bothering you about the whole eco/green/conservation thing at the moment?

It’s been brought to everyone’s attention that most ocean debris is made up of fishing nets and discarded fishing gear and I sense that many people then thought ‘well then it’s not what I’m doing that’s the problem’ but they don’t make the connection that most fish they buy from the store is unsustainably caught and perhaps illegally caught and therefore well connected to the issue. Commercial nets and long lines aren’t the way to go, because of the insane amount of bycatch! So I encourage people to be more aware of where their fish products are coming from. And all that shouldn’t detract from the fact that our society’s single use plastic addiction is really unsustainable and extremely wasteful.

What do you find is working? And what change do you hope to see in this lifetime?

Educating young people is working, I see that they have already soaked up information about how bad single use plastics are and their influence on their parents and their peers is amazing.

Sara Kulins for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

Sara Kulins for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

Is there anything you would love to tell the you from ten years ago?

I would tell the younger me to go for it and follow your dreams. I’d like to think I have done that so far but I think it took me moving to the other side of the world and starting fresh to be really true to myself and follow my heart, not be distracted by societal norms.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for doing this!

Any suggestions for the next drop?

Nah, you are doing a fantastic job Candace, you are so creative and inspiring.

Who would be a good person/ organization to donate merchandise profit portions to?

I think I am biased if I say Sir Peter Blake MERC because I think education is key to change, but there should be a way that we can raise awareness together. There is so many organizations doing great things but I am partial to my own because I can see the positive change with my own eyes.

Where can we find out more about the work you do?

I post often on Instagram @sara_koolness in an effort to inspire others to get out and explore and hopefully inspire care for the environment.

Sara Kulins for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

Sara Kulins for #OceaninaDropNZ #AmazingWaterPeople

#OceaninaDropNZ colouring competition is now finished! We’re announcing the winners very soon!

Wonderful merchandise for kids and adults is ready soon, look out for special deals for your Christmas shopping!

The free artwork is still available. Download your free copy here.

Ocean in a Drop : A series of illustrations by Candace Loy, with each water drop shape filled with sea life and the life that water supports, of a country or state (e.g., California & New Zealand). The bigger vision is to use portions of profits from the sale of beautiful and unique merchandise, to contribute to local marine, freshwater education, research and conservation initiatives in the region depicted by the drop.

#BlueMind is a movement started by Dr Wallace J Nichols, who is also a successful turtle conservation researcher. He has done collaborations with many people including neuroscientists, to show the positive effects of being around water, on the brain.

Not only is there an increasing number of organizations supporting people in overcoming PTSD and other debilitating circumstances through water-based therapy like surfing and swimming; his message is to encourage as many people to reconnect and strengthen their bonds with water, and be inspired as a result to take care of waters across our blue planet.

Combining neuroscience, honouring emotions and using it to create more beneficial solutions for our planet and the life she supports. Here are some of his talks on neuroconservation.

#OceaninaDrop + share your favourite water memory to inspire others, on Instagram and Facebook, and get featured xo