Dr. Rita Mehta

rita holding an eelDr. Rita Mehta was born in Calcutta, India and moved to Southern California when she was a one year old. As such, her family started to take regular trips back when she was three, which allowed Dr. Mehta got to experience the tropics of various Asian countries along with India, such as Indonesia and Tahiti. These experiences help cultivate her deep love for the natural world. This passion only continued to grow and eventually led her to a primatology class at UC Irvine and eventually to her current passion in studying manta rays, eels and other marine life. To Rita, a naturalist is someone who intimately knows an area, and about the organisms that inhabit that area and how they interact.

rita holding an eelOne of Rita’s most memorable experience as a naturalist occurred when she was working on a boating research trip with graduate students and they were trying to measure an eel on the boat. Eels are large, heavy and slippery and it ended up getting stuck in a bilge hole. They spent hours trying to get the eel out only for it to finally come up through a water pump, alive and happy.

a large eel being measuredDr. Rita Mehta believes we could improve outreach efforts in the naturalist community to include more representative role models and to provide customized programming to underrepresented and low-income communities. It is also important to reevaluate institutional standards and regulations to reduce barriers for underrepresented groups. Moreover, those in power also should reflect on their own implicit bias and how that may affect the newer generation of naturalists.