Liz Baird: Introduction
I know that people don’t value and protect things that they don’t understand and things that they don’t love. And I feel that my work at the museum helps benefit the public because I give them a chance to see, understand, and fall in love with the natural world in a way that they might not have ever had a chance to do. And if they love a space, they’ve seen the deepwater corals like we’re seeing out here, then they’re more likely protect it, make wise choices about how to use it in a sustainable fashion. To really start seeing this big planet as something that we all have a responsibility for. And if one little person gets excited about what we’re doing and feels like we need to protect it, then I think this is good for the public and good for all of us.
Rewards of the Job
I find my work at the museum really personally rewarding. My hope is to give people fresh eyes for seeing the natural world and seeing the world around them. And sometimes it’s helping them see something in their own backyard, like catching a toad and figuring out how to tell if it’s a male or a female. And sometimes it’s taking them to new places, like traveling with teachers to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. And sometimes it’s using things like this research mission to show them things that they may never get a chance to see. And some people don’t want to spend time on boats. And so by taking footage, by taking images, by telling stories from being at sea, I’m hoping that they a new eye for seeing what’s going on out here. And when I see folks whose expressions change as they feel the smooth skin of a snake for the first time or watch with wonder when they see images from a dive, I feel like I’ve done what I want to do.
The most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen or done is really hard to identify. I’ve been privileged to see lots of really amazing things and go lots of amazing places. One thing I love is bioluminescence. And I’ve loved that since I was a kid. We used to walk down the beach and see our glowing footprints behind us in the sand in North Carolina and marvel at the way that some of the things that washed up on the beach would glow. And seeing it from the submersible is just breathtaking.
But my first year at sea on a research vessel, I was on the night watch and that was a long, dark night. And sometimes we would take a quick break and go up to the bow and you could always see the bioluminescence spraying off the bow. It would be just igniting the bow. And one night I was up there and looked and realized that I could see the dark outlines of dolphins riding the bow wave. So their shapes were silhouetted in the bow as a black shadow and you could identify them completely. And then they would dart off into the ocean like shooting stars in the sea. It was…magical.