Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Why a Career in Aquatic Plant Management?

In our childhood, many of us likely imagined ourselves as firemen, astronauts, doctors or even famous musicians.  Probably less likely did we imagine ourselves as applicators, distributors, and academics whose days (and nights) are often spent studying plants…. Aquatic plants at that.  There is certainly nothing wrong with any of these careers as they can be some of the most rewarding jobs in the world, but like me you have undoubtedly never seen a kid sized applicator costume equipped with all the appropriate PPE in the Halloween section of your local Wal-Mart.  So the question might be, “What brought us to careers in aquatics, and more      specifically, to aquatic plant management?”

For some that decision was made over years of academic pursuit.  Others may have seen a niche market with entrepreneurial potential.  Some of you may even have a hard time answering how exactly you found yourself working in aquatic plant management…  So really, why choose a career in aquatic plant management?  Although I can’t speak for all, here are five of many reasons that stand out in my mind which justify a career in aquatic plant science. 

1.)    Outdoor Office Space – Although some of us spend more time in the field than others, the overwhelming majority of us spend at least SOME of our time “in” the “out”doors.  While our cohorts in other careers may spend hours in a cubicle, we have the opportunity to take in fresh air, sunshine, and the beauty surrounding our planet’s most precious resource.  Remember this the next time you complain about hours of field work….  
Photo Credit: Brett Hartis

2.)    Stewards of the Environment – While we may not be saving others from burning buildings like our childhood selves would have hoped, we are able to protect and serve the rest of mankind through ensuring that our environment, specifically our water resources, are well taken care of.  Invasive aquatic vegetation degrades water quality, causing health problems for people, loss of habitat for fish and wildlife, and a decrease in aesthetic value of aquatic environments.  There is and will continue to be a pressing need to develop new strategies and refine existing ones to ensure our water resources are protected… and we have the opportunity to do this and call it our job!
Photo Credit: Brett Hartis

3.)    Room for Innovation – In nearly all disciplines of science, we rely on our senses to tell us what we want to know about the environment in which we study.  Although there are limitations to understanding processes along various scientific avenues, very few offer a realm of study in which we aren’t perfectly equipped to use all of our senses.  While we weren’t born with fins and gills, the mysterious nature of the aquatic sciences also lends to seemingly unbounded limits for exploration and discovery.  From mapping and monitoring to precision management,  we have so much to look forward to in the aquatics arena while our terrestrial counterparts scour over the same boring science.    
Map Credit: Justin Nawrocki/ CI Biobase

4.)    Making Connections – Aquatic systems encompass an intertwined lattice of intricate relationships with aquatic plants at the basis of most of those systems.  Just as complex are the relationships of the stakeholders associated with problems in aquatic plant management.  While to some this may seem a curse, we as plant scientists get to work with diverse groups and individuals ranging from lake homeowners and recreational users to state and federal management personnel.  These variegated relationships shape us as professionals and make us able to view life and make decisions taking into account a number of different, sometimes conflicting angles.
Photo Credit:  Hank Dewald

5.)    Publicly Generalized, yet Specialized Subject Matter – We have all had to explain the importance of aquatic plants, their restoration, and their management at one point or another in our careers.  Whether it was presenting the importance of noxious weed management to an auditorium of hundreds, or explaining to friends over dinner what “exactly it is we do”, we have made a seemingly uninteresting science to become interesting.  Many of these types of conversations begin with “What good is studying a bunch of plants” or worse, “I can’t stand all that SEAWEED” (Oh how I hate when anything green is assumed as "seaweed"..).  Yet because of us, these conversations often end with “wow, I didn’t know this type of science even existed” or “that makes perfect sense”.  Our science is rarely front page news, but we have the opportunity to show others of various ages and upbringings just how important aquatic ecosystems really are.
Photo credit:  Brett Hartis

You can probably agree with these five, and can more than likely add several more of your own.  We in aquatic plant science careers are posed with some of the greatest challenges facing our world today including the restoration of critical aquatic habitats, management of troublesome invaders, and many more tasks in between.  While this may seem overwhelming at times, we work in one of the most exciting and rewarding scientific fields.  I think that our childhood selves would look up and say “well done”.  

What are some reasons that YOU chose to work in an aquatics field?  Please post your comments below.  For more information on the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Foundation, visit our website at or follow us on twitter @AerfAquatics and Facebook!  Stay tuned for more blogging on AERF’s Aquatic Update!

Cover Photo Credit:  Justin Nawrocki

1 comment:

  1. I like and agree with all of your points in the blog. And in addition, generally it is a pleasure working with like minded people who have gravitated toward environmental stewardship and aquatic restoration. Work feels less like work when your in a boat.