The experience I had as a volunteer with the TNACI Sturgeon Husbandry Program was, in short, phenomenal. Throughout my six weeks with TNACI my eyes were opened to countless new perspectives and insights regarding conservation, ranging from sturgeon to silt, sustainable seafood to stunned sunfish, animal care to education. The Husbandry Program is undeniably ambitious, a quality emphasized more so when one considers the extreme frailty of the young sturgeon’s fettle. Nevertheless, what struck me the most about the project was the relentless torrent of enthusiastic energy that fueled it, particularly an eagerness to engage the external community. This desire to not only better the environment, but to also teach and encourage the participation of others was trademark of all of TNACI’s projects. Whether organizing an attention-grabbing production such as the highly publicized sustainable seafood event or contemplating smaller scale outreach to children with an iconic “Sammy the Sturgeon”—my personal favorite—the Conservation Institute dedicates itself to more than “giving fish” to the community. Rather than resuscitating the marine environment for a few more years, it strives ardently to but to “teach [us all] how to fish” on our own, ballooning effectiveness and longevity through mass participation. Examine my own experience. Hardly a high school senior, not to mention completely oblivious to the mechanics of sturgeon reintroduction and marine science, I was accepted into the TNACI scene with enthusiasm and welcome. Despite my initial ignorance, I was invited to partake in a slew of incredible experiences, not only watching the young sturgeon grow and fight off an Aeromonas attack, but even being invited outside of the husbandry facility, collecting sunfish for the aquarium via an electroshocking boat.
Caroline (l) and Sarah (r) snorkeling in the Hiwassee River
It was through TNACI’s willingness to educate and share its passion for conservation that I in turn was inspired. Thanks to my exploits this summer at the expense of TNACI’s generosity, I look forward to passing on the torch, to spreading the enthusiasm and commitment to educate within my own community.