Underwater Passion

Kirstie Kaiser says the minute she entered the ocean for her first dive, she knew she “had made the wrong choice.” The university degree qualifying her as a physical education instructor with summers off had been a big part of wanting to be a teacher, but “that first dive in Mexico changed my life. Later I joined the Conchological Club of Southern California where my first dive looking for oceanic island shells was in Costa Rica.”

She went on to specialize in the tropical Eastern Pacific Oceanic Islands, home to offshore islands Revillagigedo, Clipperton, Cocos, Malpelo and Galapagos. Having done expeditions to each, Kirstie has published several papers and books on two: “The Recent Molluscan Marine Fauna of the Islas Galápagos” in 1997 and “The Recent Molluscan Marine Fauna of Isla de Malpelo, Colombia” in 2001. She maintains her vast shell collection from these five island groups in catalogued drawers, separated and labeled by family, genus and species. And two are named after her: the tiniest clam shell known, Condylocardia kaiserae Coan, 2003, and a micro-mollusk smaller than a grain of sand, Scissurella kaiserae Geiger, 2006.

About Banderas Bay, she says, “You have to know where to look and what to look for. Mollusks proliferate in geographic zones based on the environment: There are species that live in mangrove swamps, sand, rocky areas, shallow water, deep water, warm or cold water. It’s more than just a casual sport.”

In her free time, Kirstie combines her other passions: travel and tango. This fall she and husband Joseph Johnston visit Buenos Aires for hot tango nights.