June 28, 2013 by Erin Spencer
It’s been eleven months since I first developed the basic idea for The Lionfish Project. I had been bouncing grant ideas off people for weeks, the only thing I had narrowed down was that I wanted to do something with lionfish. One night in August, right before a family vacation to Key West, my Dad and I were driving back from an Orioles game. He dropped me off to pick up my car, and in the 20 minutes it took me to drive home, I developed the outline of the project. It was one of those instances that ideas fall into your lap, and it turned out to be the start of something pretty incredible.
Now, almost a year later, I’m finally here. On Thursday I boarded the Auto Train in Lorton, Virginia for a 17-hour train ride down the East Coast to Sanford, Florida. The entire experience is absolutely surreal—it’s hard to believe that something that once seemed like such an unachievable dream is finally happening. The last eleven months have seen their fair share of tears, rants and doubts as I developed my first ever grant-funded independent research project, but thankfully I had a network of endlessly supportive friends and family to see me through. I owe them a huge amount of thanks, because I know it couldn’t have been easy (especially in February while waiting to hear the results of the grant—I’m surprised I have any friends at all after that! I was a total wreck).
But now the real work begins. I’ve spent the last two months or so focused on logistics—getting releases, contacting interviewees, talking with research stations and pouring over Florida Keys guidebooks. To date, I have eight interviews locked in and many more in the works. Every person I contact leads me to two or three other potential interviewees—to the point that my head is swimming with possibilities. Mostly, I’m humbled by how welcoming and supportive the Florida Keys community has been. Bound together by a common love of their native coral reef, these individuals will support any cause working to save it. I’m rapidly finding that these are some of the most innovative and passionate people I’ve ever met. My time in the Keys will hopefully result in a captivating story about the individuals who are eradicating invasive lionfish—after all, that’s why I’m here. My challenge is to discover and capture these stories in a way that truly does them justice. It will undoubtedly be a learning experience with its ups and downs, and I’ll certainly make mistakes along the way. But from what I’ve seen so far, the stories will ultimately speak for themselves.
Now I’ve just got to go get them.