In Memory of "Dr. Kelp," Chuck Kopczak

Released August 31, 2022
Media Contact: Leah Shore / / (213)-740-1960

It is with great sadness that we share the passing of our beloved colleague, supporter, and friend, Dr. Chuck Kopczak. While we mourn the loss of an incredible scientist and educator, we pay tribute and celebrate a remarkable life that was well lived. Chuck led a life full of passion for the ocean, nature, and photography, and he was committed to advancing marine science knowledge and experiences throughout California.

Dr. Chuck was known across Southern California and beyond for connecting everyone to science and was an extraordinary and patient teacher for all ages,” expresses USC Sea Grant’s Education Programs Manager, Linda Chilton. 

Dr. Kopczak’s legacy includes over 30 years of experience working in the field of marine ecology, inspiring thousands of young people, many of them burgeoning scientists. His passion for exploring marine life and educating the public shines brightly throughout his many career endeavors. He served as an aquarist at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium and brought interactive and live animal exhibits to the public as the first director of the (then) University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Ocean Discovery Center at the Santa Monica Pier, and was one of the first scientists in the region to grow live kelp and surf grass in an aquarium display tank while at the California Science Center. He even got his feet wet as a diving instructor in UCLA’s Scientific Diving Program and directed a team of divers working on kelp restoration. 

As Curator of Life Sciences at the California Science Center, he provided field-based educational experiences in marine and terrestrial ecology. He was instrumental in the design and development of the large Ecosystem Gallery that drew and inspired tens of thousands of visitors every year.  During his tenure there, students knew him as “Dr. Kelp,” an ode to his uniquely successful skill in connecting youth with marine science. 

USC Sea Grant had the honor to work with Chuck on a variety of academic, research, and educational endeavors over the years. His dedication to fostering marine science literacy was displayed through his enduring enthusiasm and willingness to collaborate with scientists and educators throughout the region. With USC Sea Grant, for example, he partnered on the community science project, Long-term Monitoring Program and Experiential Training for Students (LiMPETS), leading elementary school excursions for fieldwork at Catalina Island for lessons on island ecosystems and marine protected areas (MPAs). He was a frequent guest speaker for community science programs such as the Los Angeles Coastal California Naturalist Certification Program and worked with the Southern California Aquarium Collaborative on MPAs. 

In addition to working professionally with USC Sea Grant, Chuck was a wonderful advisor, teacher, and friend to our program. As a member of Sea Grant’s Advisory Council for over 25 years, he was always willing to share his broad knowledge of marine ecology and aquatic science, generous with his time reviewing research proposals and publications, and offering advice for our extension and education programs.  

“Chuck was always at our side as we grappled with the myriad problems accruing to the “urban coast,” and he did so with intelligence, insight, and a clear view of the ways that science mattered to the public and to our natural resources. As an Advisor, he was an invaluable part of our program at Sea Grant. As a friend for over 30 years, he was always there with a constructive and insightful point of view,” said USC Sea Grant’s Executive Director, Phyllis Grifman.  

Full of life and adventure, Dr. Kopczak touched lives even more through his combined passion for photography and marine ecology. He was known for his vivid and breathtaking photos, especially throughout his diving escapades. Expanding beyond marine life, Chuck also loved capturing all aspects of nature including wildlife, deserts, and mountains. 

Dr. Kopczak will be greatly missed. The legacy he created in his life and work continues onward, and the gift of his photography will forever be cherished.

Examples of images from Chucks' photography website: Giant Kelp off of the coast of Catalina Island (top left), a Kodiak bear in Alaska (top right), an overview of Mammoth Lakes scenery (bottom left), and a purple sea urchin (bottom right).  


About USC Sea Grant

USC Sea Grant’s mission is to contribute to solving the problems of the Urban Ocean, while recognizing the opportunities for coastal commerce, recreation, and improving the quality of life in coastal regions such as Southern California. Our program is based at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA. We are one of 34 programs within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Sea Grant Program.  

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