Black History Month: Q&A with Rayon Carruthers

Photo credit: Rayon Carruthers

Black History Month celebrates the achievements of the African American community and their critical role in United States history. Each year, in recognition of Black History Month, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation shares stories of Black individuals who have shaped the past and present of our national marine sanctuaries.

Captain Rayon Carruthers is currently the operator in charge of the R/V Fulmar, based in Monterey, California. With more than twenty years of seagoing and boating experience, Captain Carruthers has worked on the maintenance and operation of a variety of scientific and recreation vessels as well as in marine and coastal zone project monitoring, environmental permit compliance evaluations, and marine patrol. He is also the Chief Executive Officer of Oceans for Everyone, Inc., a nonprofit which provides boating experiences for youth in Jamaica, and a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer. We spoke with Captain Carruthers about his journey to become a research vessel captain and his passion for inspiring the next generation of marine conservationists.


How is your work connected to national marine sanctuaries?

I’m the captain of the NOAA R/V Fulmar. We run research projects in several of the national marine sanctuaries in the west coast region, including Monterey Bay, Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank, and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuaries.

What/who inspired you to pursue a career in ocean conservation?

Photo credit: Rayon Carruthers

The ocean is the purest environmental space we have on this planet. Everything about it connects me to a part of myself that feels special and untarnished. Being on the ocean makes me feel tuned in to a broader consciousness. I’ve always loved seeing the ocean, hearing it, feeling it. I’ve always loved being out there. If you love something, you try to take care of it. Or, at the very least, partake in it in a positive way. The ocean has done way more for me than I could ever do for it, I’m just lucky that a career exists that allows me to live what I love.

Tell us about your experience of becoming a captain on a research vessel.

I’d been working on boats for a while, even done research on boats as a biologist. But I’d never had the opportunity to run a research vessel. So, when I saw they were hiring, I didn’t hesitate. In addition to the work we do in sanctuaries, I get to be a part of many projects with several other research groups. That variety has definitely enhanced my experience as well. And at the end of the day, I get to take people out to sea, all I’ve ever wanted to do is share the ocean with folks.

How has your experience as a SCUBA instructor allowed you to share your love of the marine environment and how to safely and responsibly enjoy it with others?

Teaching SCUBA was great because it was the first time it became really clear to me that sharing my love for the ocean was so important to me. It was a good environment to share because people were always so eager to learn.

Why is it important for Black youth to have the opportunity to experience the ocean firsthand and/or see role models in ocean conservation who look like them?

Photo credit: Rayon Carruthers

Opportunities to experience the ocean usually don’t come cheap. Boating can be an expensive activity. Owning a boat, or even going on boat trips, is more costly than many families can afford. When I started Oceans For Everyone Jamaica, it wasn’t thinking about black youth, I was thinking about all youth. Kids deserve more than this world is giving them. And I want to create my own little wave in that regard. So, I decided to provide free trips out to sea for kids. My motivation is simply to create a mechanism that provides access. I don’t see many people that look like me in my experiences on the sea. But I don’t particularly see that as a specific outcome for any of my actions and thought processes. My goal is to share my passion and ensure access for as many kids as I possibly can. Those experiences mattered so much to me when I was growing up. They changed my life, so I just want to provide them for those who may not have them otherwise. Whatever that ends up looking like in the future is up to the universe.

What is your favorite memory at a national marine sanctuary or in the ocean?

Every moment spent at sea with my daughter is my favorite. Watching her interact with wild ocean animals is a blessing. I remember mornings with her sitting on the swim platform of our boat, in her pajamas, holding her teddy bear, those are good ones. Or watching her point at whales and dolphins as they went under us. Or seeing her read, or draw pictures of boats, as she sits beside me in the wheelhouse of our family boat. 

Photo credit: Rayon Carruthers