Julia DeMartini taught herself underwater photography to document the wonders she saw and build awareness for marine conservation.
By Lara Siu
Featherduster worms, nudibranchs, sea lilies and sea fans, cup corals and flatworms – these colorful creatures were the favorite subjects of Julia DeMartini’s underwater photography. For more than 30 years, Julia and husband Ed traveled extensively throughout the tropical Pacific, snorkeling and diving in the world’s richest marine habitats.
Fascinated by vibrant living coral reefs, Julia taught herself underwater photography and digital photo editing, both to document the wonders she saw and build awareness for marine conservation. She enjoyed sharing her images through greeting cards, calendars and slideshows, which inspired her friends and colleagues to learn to dive and explore the underwater world too.
In March 2010, Julia passed away as a result of complications from a diving accident on Hawai‘i Island. At her request, Julia’s family and friends made donations in her memory to the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i chapter, and Ed graciously offered to share Julia’s underwater photography with the Conservancy to help promote our marine conservation work.
As Ed, a marine fisheries ecologist, says: “Julia’s remarkable photographs must be shared widely with others to increase public awareness and appreciation of these unique coral reef ecosystems that need our protection – now more than ever.”
With her great love of nature, the ocean and tropical reefs, Julia was a staunch supporter, dedicated Legacy Club member and a dear friend of the Conservancy. Her passion was to protect and restore coral reefs in Hawai‘i and the Coral Triangle (an area of ocean framed by Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines).
An active member of the Legacy Club, Julia participated in various field trips to Conservancy preserves, including Kamakou and Mo‘omomi on Moloka‘i and Kona Hema on Hawai‘i Island. She would always come with her well-worn walking stick and Conservancy bucket hat, and bring a friend or Ed to share the experience.
Suzanne Case, the Conservancy’s Hawai‘i executive director, recalls how Julia enjoyed connecting with the conservation-minded community. In 2009, Julia organized a gathering of Conservancy supporters to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his famous book, On the Origin of Species. “Julia shared her passion for conservation through a testimonial, then led guests in a spirited toast to Darwin with a round of ‘for he’s a jolly good fellow.’ We will certainly miss her.”
Among her academic and professional accomplishments, Julia held a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and built a successful career in medically-related research. As a research scientist-manager at San Diego-based Hybritech, one of the first biomedical technology companies, she co-developed the widely-used PSA test for prostate cancer. In 1990 she moved to Hawai‘i and became director of research at the University of Hawaii’s Cancer Research Center. In 1998 she joined Hawai‘i Biotech, where she helped to direct the development of vaccines for dengue fever, before retiring in 2006.
Julia’s passion for marine conservation and our natural world lives on in her beautiful images and in the hearts and minds of the many people she touched throughout her full and caring life.