I am a fish nerd. I love fish decorations and fish tanks. I love fishing but always more so to see the different types of fish that might bite my line than ever to worry about the biggest fish. I love learning about fish, observing their vast biodiversity, and doing fish-based scientific research. So when I was 22 and was offered a chance to do research on fish in the Amazon, I did not hesitate, I leapt with both feet at the opportunity. What I found upon my arrival was beyond my wildest expectations. The Amazon is vivid, verdant place, primal and alive; a place that must be experienced to fully understand. And the fish are amazing: big, small, dangerous, sharp teeth, spines, electrical organs, flamboyant colors, myriad shapes and adaptations. And if that was it, my trips to the Amazon would have fulfilled a life’s dream.
But that was not it; my trips to the Amazon shaped and fueled my life’s work, it directed my passion for fish from a nerd love to an intellectually engaged scientist. My experience doing research in the Amazon fueled and shaped my passion for science and my career in environmental toxicology. With the Amazon as a backdrop, I learned what real field work looks like: the planning and logistics that go into a remote field study, how to design and execute a sampling effort, how to adaptability in the field can save a study, how make the most of the samples and supplies that you have, and how to be accurate, rigorous, and vigilant in the pursuit of good science. It was also the idea that pollution could reach a place as remote and beautiful as the Amazon that drove me to become an environmental scientist and eventually an environmental toxicologist. I was molded into a good scientist by my advisors, but my passion for science, for fish, for the environment came from those few and far between transformative moments: a child watching a lemon shark circle its tank, kneeling in a cold Ozark stream holding my first orangethroat darter, and my first wild piranha; a vivid blue black slab of scale and muscle with razor teeth and powerful jaws.
This post was inspired by my friend, Amazon trip guru, and Master’s advisor Dr. Cindy Howard. I have written before about my passion for fish and science and how it has developed into a career. See also my previous post about how I became a scientist. https://jasonsramble.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/how-a-lemon-shark-inspired-a-career-in-aquatic-toxicology-or-what-i-am-doing-with-my-life/