Sunday, February 13, 2011

Documenting the sacrifice

Whether working in remote regions or with poisonous animals, biologists often put themselves in peril in the name of discovery. The first organized expeditions of naturalists sailed to exotic lands, their bravery supplemented by their curiosity, were threatened by storms while at sea, new and deadly diseases, unfamiliar animals, and new cultures. Add plane crashes and paramilitary groups to this list and not much has changed.

In a great New York Times piece titled 'Dying for Discovery', Richard Conniff recounts several stories of naturalists, ecologists and conservation biologists killed while pursuing their passion for discovery. But just how many field biologists have died while working to understand life's secrets? This is an interesting question, and begs the further question, are they adequately memorialized?
Gary Polis (1946-2000) desert ecologist, drown with four other biologists during a storm in the Sea of Cortez.

In an attempt to tell the stories of the fallen naturalists, Conniff hosts an interactive list, called the Wall of the Dead, which lists all biologists killed in the field and that he has a record of. People are able to add names, and I've visited this list several times over the past month and it has grown substantially. I've known a few field biologists that have died -and added one to the list, and know several that survived near-death experiences, and this list is a great and important monument to their memories.

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