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  • Kelly Carpenter

An Interview with Jo Mikutowicz

Here at Divetech we are constantly getting calls, emails, and people stopping in asking about Jo. So, who is Jo, and why are all these people asking about her? Well, along with owning and operating Divetech for the past 8 years, Joanna Mikutowicz (pronounced mik-a-TOE-its) is a PADI Course Director, two-time Women’s Diver Hall of Fame nominee, baby turtle rescuer, and all-around incredible human. She’s quite famous around the island and within the dive industry - as much for her accomplishments as for her kindness and generosity - so for this month’s blog I thought it would be fun to sit down and learn more about this super blonde badass woman.

So without further ado, here is Jo Mikutowicz, in her own words…

Can you give a quick life story? Starting from where you were born/grew up, where you've lived and worked, etc. 

Born and raised in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Since I was born, I spent my summers living on a little island off of Cape Breton Nova Scotia, called Port Hood Island. Whether in Cape Cod or in Cape Breton, my life revolved around the ocean and working on boats in some way, generally lobster and fishing boats in the summers.  When I was 14, I got my first job at the local Burger King- a job I had all the way through high school. After graduating High School in Massachusetts, I went to University in Antigonish Nova Scotia, and earned a degree in Human Kinetics (more commonly known as Kinesiology). My plan was to go to grad school to become a physical therapist, but I still felt the draw to do something around the ocean.  After I graduated from University I moved to the Florida Keys for 6 months and trained and worked at a dive shop in Marathon, FL.  I earned my Open Water Scuba Instructor rating in January of 2005 and had really wanted to move to Cayman to pursue my diving career but that happened to be 4 months after Hurricane Ivan had destroyed the island.  So, needless to say no one was hiring new Instructors.  I sent my resume out to as many dive shops as I could find all over the world and a dive shop in Oahu, Hawaii offered me a job.  I had never planned on living or working in Hawaii but…why not?  So I packed my bags and ended up living there for 7 years until I felt I had accomplished all I could accomplish there. In 2012 I decided it was time to head back to the east coast and to Cayman which was the place my heart had been set on since I was a little kid. I’ve been here ever since.

Jo and her brother in Grand Cayman in the 90’s

You've been coming to Cayman for a long time! Can you talk a little about when you started coming here and what it was like back then or over the years?

I started coming to Cayman in 1993 on vacation with my family.  It has changed a lot.  One thing that sticks out from my memories back then is Dart House on 7 Mile Beach.  It used to not have anything around it, the entire lot was just an empty field, so you could see it clearly from the road and it was PINK! It was the coolest place for me because it was a huge house on the beach and it was pink.  What more could someone want?  I also remember the Hyatt Hotel- my brother and I used to sneak into their pool to swim because it was the place to be, and they had the best pool back then.  Every day now, when I drive past the empty shells of buildings that remain it makes me smile. Another great memory was the Blue Parrot bar/restaurant just south of George Town - they used to project hockey and football games on the big oil tanks down there- I am a big sports fan, so this was the best!  Over the years, I have just seen things develop in Cayman so quickly. Every time I would come back year after year, there was a new building or hotel-  even now, I leave for a week, and a new hotel is popping up when I return.  I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing- just different- but the beauty of the island and the ocean remains the same as it has always been.

7 Mile Beach in the 90s (with the red roof of the old Marriott)

Rackams in 1996 - check out the scuba divers in full gear at the bar!

When did you start diving, and what made you choose scuba diving as a career? And when/how did you start getting involved in tech/CCR diving?

Each year for school vacation, my family's vacation destination was the Cayman Islands which was where I was certified when I was 13 years old at Bob Soto’s dive school in what was at the time Treasure Island Resort, which was most recently known as Margaritaville. After completing my certification course, I thought “I am going to grow up and live in the Cayman Islands and be a dive Instructor”.  When I was doing my Instructor training in the Florida Keys, I was introduced to tech diving, both open circuit and CCR. I mainly liked it because it was just something else to learn. I am one of those people who always wanted to be learning and progressing so tech diving was just more knowledge I was gaining. After trying my first CCR in 2004- I loved it immediately because of the silence underwater.  I fell in love with diving initially because of the silence, and this was silence on another level.

What is your favorite thing about scuba diving? What are your favorite places to dive (on Cayman or otherwise)? Favorite marine creatures?

My favourite things about Scuba diving- this is a hard one- so many things.  For me, personally I feel more comfortable underwater than I do on land.  I love the corals and the critters and looking at all of them, and my favourite thing is watching them interact with each other. I love the silence, the second my head goes underwater, a calmness comes over me, and all of life’s stress melts away. I love looking out into the blue and just realising the vastness of the ocean and how tiny I am in the big scheme of things. There is SO much to explore down there, and with every dive I do, I come up with more questions. It allows my mind not to get bored.  As far as favourite places and favourite critters, I would have to say all of them, everywhere, all over the world.  People ask all the time, “ Is the diving in XXX location good?” when asking about specific destinations- I have never looked at different places around the world as “good diving’ or “bad diving” I just see them as different. Each place has different things to appreciate, explore, and learn from. I can’t pick a favourite critter- I love them all.  They are all so unique looking, colors, sizes, shapes, behaviour, but more importantly, I am fascinated that they are all here to serve a purpose for something.  I also love watching the marine creatures interact with each other.  Some very unlikely matches down there!

What are your highest professional qualifications?

As far as professional qualifications go- I earned my PADI Course Director rating in 2008, and I earned my CCR Normoxic Trimix Supervisor in 2019, which allowed me to guide CCR divers to a depth of 60m. 

Why did you want to work for and then eventually own Divetech?

I wanted to work for Nancy Easterbrook, who started Divetech in 1994.  I spent my life as a diver reading about her in dive magazines and seeing her in action on my visits to Grand Cayman and all of the amazing things she was accomplishing as a woman in the dive industry. I was honored when she offered me a job in 2012.  About 2 years into working for her, she was looking to retire, and owning Divetech felt like the right next step for me professionally and definitely something I was interested in and felt confident I could take on. I always say I wanted to own my own dive business because I wanted a voice in the dive industry. I want to make a difference in people's lives by giving them a platform to learn about diving or continue diving, I want to help people working in the industry by giving them jobs, and I want to have a voice on the marine conservation side of things, I wanted to be able to have fundraisers so we could donate to charities that need assistance- I wanted to own my own dive business so I could positively influence everyone and everything in the industry in any way I can. 

Can you speak a little about being a business owner? About your experience in general, in the dive/watersports industry, in Cayman, etc  

Challenging, quickly followed by grateful, would be the first 2 words that come to mind. Being a business owner is a lot of weight to carry.  I focus on my staff and their current lives and their futures -at Divetech or not at Divetech, I want all of our customers to have nothing but an amazing experience,  I want to have the best locations and equipment for my staff so they can be successful in offering our customers the best experience while at Divetech and then somewhere in there I need to make sure I am setting myself up for a successful future.  It’s non-stop every day, and I am so grateful for always being so busy. Being a part of the Watersport industry in Cayman is like being part of a big family. We all communicate with each other daily, we help each other out the second anyone needs anything, we recommend customers to each other when we can’t offer something the customer is looking for, we borrow equipment and boats from each other, but we also have no problems arguing like brothers and sisters when it’s called for.  Knowing every other dive operator out there always has my back if I need anything is a very comforting feeling. 

Divetech traditionally used green and yellow as our logo colors. Can you talk a little about Divetech's pink-tastic makeover? It was initially scoffed at, yet has become so iconic!

It absolutely was scoffed at, in the beginning, by just about every other dive operator on the island.  Now, they all admittedly love it, especially when all of their customers ask them about it as they pass my pink boats. Pink is just a color that has always made me happy since I was a little girl.  The more pink that was around me, the happier I was.  So when I purchased my own dive company, it gave me endless opportunities to make as many things pink as I wanted. I changed the Divetech logo first, followed by the staff shirts, followed by the boats….and then everything else followed with more to come. 

Captain Jo at the helm of ATAMYWAY, the pinkest boat in all of Grand Cayman !

You're basically a celebrity! Locally as well as within the dive industry. What are some awards/publications you've been involved in?

Yeah, it’s weird but also cool, and I try to use it as a platform to inspire other people to be amazing and to be good people, in diving or outside of diving. Honestly, to answer this question, I just had to google myself, and there’s a lot!  I have been nominated to the Women’s Diver Hall of Fame twice, presented at multiple dive shows including TekDiveUSA, been chosen as the woman of the year by Fly and Sea Dive Adventures to highlight on Women’s Dive day, been a part of many podcasts including “Dive In - the Podcast”, was chosen by PADI as one of the 5 Dive Industry leading ladies, highlighted in over 20 dive magazines including Diver Magazine in 2022, chosen as the “ Woman of Steele” in Scuba Diving magazine in 2019 and of course highlighted on multiple platforms for Divetech’s event annually for Women’s Dive Day to raise money for the Cayman Breast Cancer Foundation.  I think the coolest part of this is I don't run my business, live my life, or do things to be awarded or written about, I do it because it is how I want to live my life and what I feel is the best way to run my business and to be a good human- and my hard work gets recognised. 

Can you speak a little about the work you've done with the Department of the Environment (DOE) in Cayman?

When Covid hit in 2020, Stoney Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) also hit Grand Cayman and started to rapidly kill our hard corals.  Cayman was shut down for so long to any business operations and then for tourism so while Divetech was shut down or open to very minimal business, I took that opportunity to volunteer with the Department of Environment working on stopping/treating SCTLD.  After a couple of months, it was clear this was going to be a huge task, so the DOE put together a SCTLD response team, and I was hired for the job. For a year and a half, I worked full time for the Department of Environment, treating infected corals, creating and maintaining coral nurseries, doing photogrammetry, and doing surveys on many different reefs. It was an opportunity I will be forever grateful for, I learned so much and learned a completely different side of diving. This past year, I was invited as a volunteer to join the “Turtle Team,” and a couple of nights a week, I would assist in excavating turtle nests that had already hatched to collect data on the hatched vs. non hatched eggs and sometimes find a few stragglers that needed some assistance emerging from the nest.  It was magical.  I hope this coming summer/ Turtle season, in addition to assisting in the evenings, I can commit at least one day a week to the Turtle Team so I can continue to assist them with the amazing work they do.

Jo treating a brain coral infected with SCTLD

(photo credit: Amanda Nicholls, Pura Vida Photography)

What are your hobbies and passions?

My passion is diving- my vacations and my “to do list” still revolve around places I want to dive, dives I want to do, and underwater animals I still need to meet.  I love gardening and working in my yard, I love puzzles- like 1000+ piece puzzles done on the coffee table, and I love watching sunrise and sunset- there is something so special about the silence of both of them. 


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