As the sun went down over the Caribbean, we gathered, as we often did around a fire on the beach. We cracked some beers and waited for our fish, wrapped in tin foil with mango, onions, and peppers, to cook over the open flame. Earlier that day we’d biked down to the rocky shore on the Atlantic side of the island and snorkeled out to the reef where we speared lionfish, an invasive species, and one beautiful mangrove snapper.
Having eaten plenty of seafood since that summer in 2010, I’ve often wondered why those fish tasted the best. Was it the sweet, hairy Bahamian mangos with which they were roasted? Was it the pairing with our warm Kalik, the national beer of the Bahamas? Does fish just taste better when roasted on a beach?
A lot of people ask me how I became interested in marine science, fisheries, and seafood. When I struggle to answer these questions I usually fall back on my love for scuba diving, which I’ve been doing since I was twelve, and how I can’t get enough of the ocean. But I think the anecdote I just shared sums it up better than my explanation about diving. It brings different parts of life together. For me, the ocean is part playground and part grocery store/restaurant; there are few things that excite me more than diving a beautiful reef or eating an amazing meal.
So my motivation for studying and wanting to protect fisheries and marine ecosystems is in part a selfish one; I don’t want to have to stop playing in the ocean or eating from it. My preexisting relationship with marine life – from the reefs and roasted snapper of the Bahamas to the beaches and lobster rolls of New England – drove me to study them and understand their importance on an individual and global level.
As for why the fish tasted so good, a lesson in sustainability not learned in the classroom: it’s because I knew exactly where the fish was from, and I can tell you it doesn’t get fresher than that.