Letter 8

In the serendipitous way things fall together at the end of a journey, I can now see with hindsight and clarity the discoveries I’ve made this summer. My first reflection presented an eager (if a bit disoriented) scientist who wanted more from her summer experience than data gathering. I wanted to explore the ethics of environmentalism: scrutinizing the experiments I conducted, questioning different attitudes towards nature, and analyzing how people are working to conserve species. I hoped to gain an understanding of how to live an environmentally ethical life. But the overarching question was: why do I care? Ironically, the answer to this question eluded me until the very end.

In each of my reflections I tackled an environmental-ethical question. I began my search internally,examining how I was making scientific decisions in my research and determining if my actions reflected my ethics and attitudes toward my subject. Thus, began my questioning of different value systems (scientific or moral justifications for the cost of scientific inquiry). Thinking about different value systems culminated in my exploration of the duality of my identity in the field. I am both a scientist and a humanitarian. The scientific answers I seek are driven by my love and appreciation of nature. At first, I thought being a researcher meant I had to discard emotions for objectivity – measuring success in data and treating wild lives as subjects instead of inherently valuable entities. I found this in conflict with my more human side. I cared about the animals I was studying, I treasured their wellbeing, and valuable each species on an individual level. Though I thought it contradictory at first, the fusion of these two ways of thinking makes my research better. The humanitarian side motivates the understanding I am pursuing and introduces a standard of ethics in my work. It gives value to my scientific quest. Conversely, the scientific understanding we gain from this kind of research deepens the love we have for nature and confirms the awesomeness of other species and the dependence we have on them for our well-being.

I then looked outwards from myself to how the larger system that environmental scientists operated in. I was both surprised and appalled by the different attitudes, practices, and ethical standards (or lack thereof). I examined what in my mind was the antithesis of environmental efforts: business and commodification. I was slow to let go of the idea that business and money-making ventures weren’t inherently evil (in fact, I continued to call them “necessary evils”). But the reality is that money and influence are important to have in opposing destructive business ventures and encouraging people to engage in sustainable livelihoods. Without economic incentive, little environmental groups are lost in the tide of “progress” and local communities will participate in activities such as logging to secure financial safety for their homes and families. Similarly, commodification of nature motivates donors to give when they ordinarily wouldn’t. It doesn’t do any good for environmental organizations to operate in under unrealistic expectations of selfless donors – most people want a plush toy for the fifty dollars they give. The maximum amount of good is achieved when business models and commodification is embraced – if additional attention is paid to the dangers such attitudes embody.

In the past two weeks, I reflected more on the direct moral and ethical implications of our environmental actions. Discussions with the bird-banding interns taught me about different levels of environmental ethics. I also thought about the ethics of killing animals. When is it justifiable to kill other animals, if ever? Interestingly, the scientific-humanitarian duality I feel came into play when I could find no moral grounds for killing animals, except in the case of having a scientific basis such as the case with invasive species.

Ultimately, this summer of ethical inquiry – both internal and external, scientific and humanitarian, theoretical and practical – allowed me to finally answer the biggest question. My close relationship with the plants, animals, and people in Ecuador and Colombia showed me just how interconnected we all are. I wasn’t able to see this in the beginning with clarity. Environmental issues are social, economic, and scientific all at the same time. In my close relationship with nature, I realized how my actions, both direct and indirect, have long-reaching causality. My daily actions, whether in the field or at home, have the potential to either hurt or benefit my environment. Equally, it is my environment that sustains me. The sunshine which help plants grow, the plants that clean the air I breathe and nourish me and the other animals of the planet, are all a part of my being. The environment is important to mental health and to sustainable economic markets. When we put a whole lot of bad in, the system will eventually break, hurting both us and all of the other living components.

Environmental issues are so complex and have countless stakeholders, making it nearly impossible to understand or address all at once. This summer I spent time identifying the multifaceted issues a small segment at a time, until I gained a full understanding of the problem. After identifying and exploring different subtopics separately, the connections between them all became apparent. The world is live an endless, pulsing web. We, including the plants and animals of the world, are a part of the fabric an each of our movements sends vibrations throughout the web.

The reason why I care about our environment is simply because I am connected to it all. Even though I am a small person in the big scheme, I have the ability to leave an impact. Every choice I make has the potential to hurt or harm other living beings. My actions even have the ability to rebound and come to hurt or benefit me later in life. Because everyone and everything is connected through our shared environment, we owe it to ourselves and to each other to protect our natural spaces and to value the health of our world. The way that I have lived thus far in a privileged society has generated an incomprehensible amount of trash, carbon emissions, and deaths of animals. I feel a great responsibility for my actions. Now that I understand the interconnectivity of everything in our environment, I know I must walk through this life causing the least amount of damage. Every choice I make has consequences but they it is also the opportunity to make positive change.

Andrea near lake

Letter 7

In opposition to last week, I spent most of the last seven days in relative solitude. The interns have left, raccoon, trash bags, night advisor moved on to a project in Brazil, and the hired cook doesn’t come in for a party of one. After fulfilling discussions about environmental ethics and challenging myself with differing ideas, I now only have myself to banter with. Holding down the fort alone has some benefits. With the presence of a lot of people at the bamboo house, the animals had kept a wary distance. But alone I have stumbled across an armadillo in the forest, a huge bicolored weasel called a tyra in the garden, and I squared off with capuchin monkeys when I walked under their tree. But now rats, mice, raccoons, pigs, and dogs have also gotten bolder and are slowly advancing on the bananas in the kitchen. There are traps at JCR to catch and kill the small rodents that get inside the bamboo house. We’ve been chasing away the raccoons and dogs with pots and pans. There is a general warrant to kill any of pigs that wander into the reserve from the neighboring community. But I’m here to research and conserve wildlife, so why am I thinking about killing animals?

            This made me wonder: what makes it okay to take the life of another animal? Is it when it becomes a pest or an invasive species? When it is food? Is it always okay because we are people and they are not? I am interested in how people have greater objections to killing some animals over others. Why is that? The interns and I set out traps for the mice and rats that wander into the kitchen without thinking twice. I’m used to considering these kinds of small rodents as pests that you trap or poison to eradicate. Yet, here these are native species of rats and mice that live in the surrounding cloud forest. The rodents were here before the bamboo house was built. And if I saw a capybara (a dog-sized rodent) walk into the house, I would be snapping photographs and gleefully observing it instead of running at it with a machete. Nobody suggested killing the raccoons even though they are equally a problem in the kitchen, but we do trap and release them or scare them with loud noises. I am also confident any of the interns would have objected to any kind of maltreatment towards the dogs that occasionally wander over.

            So when is it morally permissible to kill an animal?

            To answer this, I started big. It is never okay to kill a human being for being a pest or a source of food, so the fact that we are accustomed to the concept of killing animals (in general) indicates to me a sub-human classification. Granted, some cultures and religions discourage killing animals (or perhaps only certain species), but broadly speaking the concept of killing animals is acceptable. At the same time some animals are deemed better than others. Most people don’t have a problem chowing down on chicken wings, but no one wants to eat their neighbor’s pet. Similarly, over fifty rats have fallen to the traps we set up every night, but not one of us has killed a dog or a pig. Is it because they are too intelligent? Are they too cute? We grow attached to dogs and cats and horses, but why not cows or chickens? It makes sense that animals compatible with domestication and companionship become our food and friends. The proximity with these animals allows us to see their individuality and characteristics, and in this understanding we feel connected to them. It’s harder to harm or kill an animal that we have grown close to or developed an appreciation for. The further removed the animal is from our homes and hearts, the easier it is to feel okay killing them.

            So does that make that okay? The argument that animals killing other animals for survival as part of the “circle of life” doesn’t apply very well to people. Humans are more than capable of growing non-animal food sources. Additionally, humans have long been harming other species to a degree where the animals are disappearing – going permanently extinct. There is no balance with the killing of animals as people explode in number and encroach further and further on natural environments, destroying flora and fauna along the way the way there is in nature. So are people special because of their intelligence? Their innovation? Their ability to feel emotion and weave stories and built skyscrapers and make art? Animals to varying degrees can feel pain and joy, teach their young and tell narratives, build monumental nests or structures, even make beautiful artistic displays. So why is it immoral to kill a person but we can kill an animal? I can’t justify why.

            However, thinking of animals as invasive species is another case. Humans are responsible for the introduction of plant and animal species from foreign places. Invasive species often multiply in the absence of natural predators and take over ecosystems in detrimental ways. They then destroy natural habitats and put stress on native populations. Here, combating nonnative species through hunting (and sometimes eating) them makes sense. Imbalance in the food chain due to human activity has already called for population control interference, such as deer hunting in North Carolina in the absence of apex predators.

            As a final thought, I found it interesting how proximity to an animal correlated to the amount of guilt or hesitation about killing. Before I ever set a trap myself, I knew the interns had been catching and killing rats most nights. This didn’t bother me; in fact, it seemed reasonable. But once I set a trap and then removed the dead body of a large rat the next day, I couldn’t help but observe its soft fur, little black eyes, and tiny feet of the animal. I felt sad that it was dead and a little upset that I was responsible. When a pig wandered into the kitchen and started ripping up bags and tipping boxes, I knew there was no way that I could hurt it. The pig looked at me and wasn’t scared. Killing an animal with my own hands was out of the question. Yet, the pig was responsible for destroying vegetation and riverbank habitat as well as contaminating water sources, so given a humanitarian way of exterminating it, I would not be opposed. People introduced this problem and have a responsibility to resolve it. The terrible reality of is that animal lives are lost in the wake of these mistakes.

Letter 6

Home, sweet jungle home! The past few days were so packed that the return to Jama-Coaque feels like a return to calm and center. After leaving the La Mesenia Reserve, I accompanied my project advisor to the inauguration of the Cloud Forest Alliance in Cali, Colombia. My lab mate Ruben Palacio (who has both challenged and guided my research in the past) helped orchestrate this common-goal pact. The CloudForest Alliance is intended to connect and support different conservation groups of the greater Cali area. After the inauguration, I visited the San Antonio Bosque near Cali to run my cameras. For being so involved with birds, it wasn’t until a few days ago that I went on my first birdwatching tour! We saw an Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, which is quite an exquisite bird to see. I even had the pleasure of experiencing vibrant Cali life (with many thoughts on machismo, gender roles, ethnic relationships, culture differences, and Colombian politics for another day) before returning to the quiet and relative solitude of Jama-Coaque.

bird in hands

Not only did this week give me cultural exposure I’ve been looking for but traveling around also made me realize that some of the most valuable resources I had around me are the people. Thus far, I’ve spent most of my time searching for original ideas and conclusions from my own thoughts. I take my research experiences and privately reflect upon them, thinking about the ethics involved. What I learned from the packed past few days is that I can absorb a concentrated amount of information about different conservation ideas, environmental-political involvement, and culture simply from talking to people. I met people involved in different levels of eco-tourism and conservation organizations with diverse values and agendas. I gained valuable insight and, perhaps most importantly, had transformational discussions that stimulated some of my greatest thoughts.

Upon my return to JCR, I decided to tap into the human wealth of knowledge: the bird banding interns. I almost immediately regretted my decision to try and connect with the interns. They get up at 4:30am. At an hour where only the raccoons looking for the bananas in our kitchen are awake, we eat breakfast by candlelight and file into the jungle by headlamp. The interns and I hike for an hour and a half, arriving at the mountain top right at dawn to set up the banding station and open the mist nets. At timed intervals, the interns check the mist nests for captures and bring back the birds in bags to be banded, measured, weighed, aged, sexed, and assessed for health at the station. The interns work efficiently and calmly, they are serious about their work. I’ve never seen a banding operation like this. There are no injuries or deaths, and the birds experience minimal stress. My involvement with the whole process is purely observational: I follow the interns in their duties. And I ask a lot of questions.

Between mist net checks and measuring, there are little gaps of time to fill with chatter. The interns, their instructors, and I exchanged birding stories. I’ve had experience capturing and banding birds, and until talking to this group, I had assumed it was in a professionally and scientifically sound way. The interns found the description of my banding experience to be thoroughly objectionable, something that surprised me in the worst way. Interestingly, we quickly discovered that there were different ethical standards amongst ourselves, but there were many viewpoints that we held as common ground.

Here is one thing I learned from the interns: Among the birding community, it is joked that it can take longer to get your bird banding license than a pilot’s license. Europe has the most stringent application, training, and qualification process, followed by the United States. Licensing is critical for ensuring that animals are handled with the upmost care and human impact is reduced to a minimum – and there is a lot to know! The internship program at Jama-Coaque follows more stringent rules, despite Ecuador (like many other developing and near-developed countries) not holding these standards. I found out that people flock to countries like Ecuador precisely for that loophole. Largely unqualified people operate bird banding efforts without being licensed. Unlicensed bird banders even teach others and start their own businesses here. These “easier” bird banding experiences then compete with operations such as the one at JCR, where interns learn about bird handling and banding very carefully. It had never occurred to me that so many technically legal but definitely unethical companies were in operation – and I may have participated in one of them!

By the end of our conversation, I was appalled by the stories the interns shared with me (including some very extreme tales of blood extraction methods causing bird fatalities and aggressive handling injuring small birds) and they were equally horrified by the stories of my own (now understood) unethical banding experience. The interns at JCR are all passionate and devoted bird lovers. Some of them have ambitions to make careers out of avian banding and research, and their love for birds keeps their actions limited and maximally safe for all lives involved. We discussed why the unethical treatment of avian research still exists, and what can be done about it.

While the interns and I ended our conversations in sighs about the way the world is today, we did find some hope. The interest in the birds of Colombia and Ecuador is driven largely my external interests from bird enthusiasts and nature lovers. For those of us who travel from countries like the United States to ecological reserves such as this, we must travel with the best standards. Fostering an appreciation for wildlife is the first step. This can begin by teaching environmental ethics when children and to visitors who interact with nature. It should be explained why restrictive laws exist for the protection and wellbeing of amazing biodiversity. Then teaching the ethical standards of behavior around wildlife is next. How do you do the least harm and show your appreciation to the wild? Then, people must be educated about how businesses are using loopholes in governance to act unethically to generate outcry over these infractions. Unfortunately, even if most people felt and behaved like the interns and I, unethical businesses exploiting and commercializing nature would still occur where the opportunity exists. Therefore, the final step would be to change the national laws to reflect the highest standards. But before people and politicians can be convinced to operate on the highest ethical code, it all goes back to teaching and fostering appreciation.

Letter 5

Last week I thought about the “necessary evil” spawned by economic pressures on conservation efforts. To run a program most effectively and to maximize the plant and animal species protected, it is sometimes necessary to spend the time and resources pursuing donors and building an organization’s economic and social presence. Placing efforts exclusively on direct acts of conservation, ironically, isn’t always the best path. That being said, I’ve also realized that the reality of economics isn’t an inherently “evil” attribute, but it is something that must be addressed and even wielded for the environmental cause. This week at La Mesenia, I’ve spent more time questioning the “necessary evils” of conservation to see if, in fact, they are evil or just plain necessary.

            To take the idea of a business model in conservation a step further, I thought about the commodification of species and its implications. Species are commodified everywhere: we pay admission to zoos to see exotic animals, we buy stuffed elephants and bears for our children, we dress up with ears and tails and whiskers for Halloween, we even… auction off species’ names to the highest bidder? When I learned about Cassidy’s Poison Dart Frog, I was intrigued as to how this Colombian endemic came to be named after a former Duke student. And, of course, I was jealous that someone got such a cool frog named in their honor.

            Early in the week, we went for a long, uphill hike to a patch of forest at the peak of a nearby mountain. I had been birding for so many days in a row, I had started to regard my binoculars as a permanent accessory to my face. But now, I was stealthily creeping through damp leaf litter, eyes cast on the ground and ears tuned in to the cricket-like chirps of Cassidy’s frog. I spotted two of the gorgeous bright red and black nickel-sized frogs – the only pair seen that evening. I felt proud that last semester’s Herpetology class hadn’t failed me. Professor Pimm made a short congratulatory video to send to Cassidy, reaffirming that the frog bearing her name was still hopping around the mountain peaks of Colombia. I asked who this mysterious woman was.

            It turns out, Cassidy and her family had been important financial backers of Professor Pimm’s organization Saving Species. Cassidy was especially enthusiastic in raising funds for the organization. So much so that when she graduated from Duke, she was presented with perhaps the most awesome graduation gift ever: a newly discovered species of poison dart frog was to be named after her. This is not the first time, and certainly not the last time, that a species has been named after a person. Sometimes organizations raise money for themselves by auctioning off the right to name a species to the highest bidder. This seems like an ingenious plan to fundraise or even thank a particularly important donor or naturalist. Yet I can’t help but object to the commodification of species in such a way.

            Naming a species after yourself seems selfish, or at least, egocentric. I understand the appeal of it though – what novel idea! But the places in which new species are being discovered, like this reserve in Colombia, often have a rich history of indigenous people, a local culture, and a relationship to the wildlife. Instead of tying an endemic animal to the culture of the area, it gets named after a rich outsider who may or may not have been to the place in which the species was discovered. It generates an attitude of “sell-ability” of species, but it comes at a price too expensive for anyone but those living in very fortunate circumstances. Even naming a species in somebody’s honor still implies that a specie’s namesake can be bought and sold. These people are often of European descent. European influence and interference in South America is a complicated story.

            Perhaps it is human nature to resist giving without getting something in return. Not everyone cares deeply about the environment in the way that I do, so commodifying nature to incentivize donations makes sense. Donate fifty bucks and get a plush sloth. Donate a quarter million and have your generosity immortalized in taxonomy. Save some trees on the side. I imagine if we relied on pure altruism from people, the projects on this reserve would be scanter for resources. It’s a frustrating conclusion to come to: I don’t like the idea of commodifying species in such a way, but it ultimately drives conservation efforts forward. As long as conservation groups are trying to find ways to get money (I’ve heard this called “professional begging”), it makes sense to follow lucrative opportunities. I wish there were ways to transcend reality. If only people would be just as generous without expecting reward. If only naming a species after yourself came with more thoughtfulness and less selfishness. In any case, I have no doubt that the contributions that Cassidy and her family made to La Mesenia have propelled it into the strong project that it is today. If those red and black poison dart frogs are still chirping today thanks to the efforts of a former Duke student, then how can I object to them being named in her honor?

Money and conservation

I’m still in an ecological reserve in the South American Andes, but my whole world is different. I followed Professor Stuart Pimm, my project advisor, to the La Mesenia Reserve in Colombia. While so many things remain the same as in Jama-Coaque, the ecological and operational differences between the two places are astounding. The Jama-Coaque Reserve protected lowland forests, only miles from the shoreline. In La Mesenia, I am at the highest elevation that I have ever been – nearly 8,000 ft! La Mesenia’s biodiversity of plants and animals are much more visible and amazing. I’ve seen red and black poison dart frogs, emerald-glinted moths the size of my hand, and birds of every color. Aside from the differences between the climate, flora, and fauna of both places, the operational attitudes between the two places are a source of major deviation.

The La Mesenia Reserve feels like a five-star resort compared to Jama-Coaque. JCR began as a land-buying conservation effort by three eco-conscientious surfers wanting to make a difference, and it is now run by a panel of science-oriented biologists. They make just enough money to make repairs or pursue their next environmental project. There is less long-term commercial strategy and investing at Jama-Coaque. La Mesenia, however, is run by business people with a philanthropic passion for conservation. There are big-name donors – some of whom give so much money they get a new species named after them – and the reserve reflects it. I’d even argue that La Mesenia, despite spending more money and attention to building headquarters with electricity, warm showers, and even a TV, they also do a better job doing conservation work. But I wondered: at what cost?

This week, I became greatly interested in what I viewed as the business model of nature preservation. I wondered if there was justification for using a business model in the environmental sphere. How is money best spent? Which is the smarter and more effective technique? And what are the costs of each attitude. As far as becoming a powerful economic presence in the local community, having a business-oriented model is important. The director of La Mesenia can employ many of the community members with well-above-average wages. They are also able to purchase competitive land for high prices and spend the necessary money reforesting those areas. Jama-Coaque struggles to employ and pay local community members and is less of an economic presence in their community. La Mesenia’s economic power allows them to compete with local cattle or palm oil businesses that hold most of the political power. This allows them to shift money and attention towards conservation. Because people are able to create livelihoods out of ecotourism and conservation work, the local community has largely chosen to protect their beautiful biodiversity over less lucrative sources of money.

Before this trip, I naively thought everyone could have a strong appreciation for nature and a desire to protect it. What I hadn’t realized is that the area of work I am interested in is somewhat of a privilege. No matter how the people of the La Mesenia or Jama-Coaque communities felt about the plants and animals around them, they deforested land for themselves and their families to make a living. It wasn’t until conservation work became a lucrative option that people changed their attitudes. This to me was a bit of a shock. It snapped me out of the former expectations I had for people. I needed a bit of a reality check with my ideas. People first and foremost need security in their lives, and they will do anything that needs to be done to achieve it. No matter how important people think nature is, they are going to continue to deforest and destroy natural habitat for their own livelihoods unless financial incentive is created to do otherwise. This is one of the reasons why I think running a reserve like a business is a good idea.

On the other hand, I do think JCR is doing many things right. Despite not having the financial backers of La Mesenia, every single resource they have is being put towards purchasing land or pursuing the next conservation project. While there is less activity spent on finding donors and wooing them, more time is spent by on the ground with the local community. Without great financial power, JCR develops strong relationships to the people in the local community by educating them about their mission and working with them in any opportunity. Each of the directors knows Spanish fluently and knows the names of the community members and their relationships. JCR is also free from the demands of big investors. Without receiving money that has an attached agenda, JCR spends what resources they have to their fullest capacity.

In conclusion, I believe that the attitude toward conservation that the people at Jama-Coaque have is with the best (and most ethical) of intentions. But as romantic as it is to work on the ground, using scare resources to the fullest, the business model can be more effective at achieving the ultimate goal: conserving biodiversity. Using a business model means that money is spent in ways that don’t directly protect nature, but it all builds the power and presence of the reserve to protect more land. If I were to run my own conservation reserve, I would try to get people who care purely about the protection of land and resources to work with people who will spend the time wooing donors and creating long-term business models.

As a side note, I also had the pleasure of teaching a rising 7th grade student all that I knew about biodiversity and conservation. This student was visiting with her mother from the United States, and she had an interest in the technology we were using to monitor animals on the reserve. She came with me on my daily hikes, and before long she was switching out SD cards and mounting cameras with prowess. Engaging this student was incredibly rewarding and it allowed me to reflect on how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned. I also recognize the importance of sharing what I am doing with others. I hope to have inspired appreciation or some new ideas in her!

Benefits and drawbacks of scientific distance

Last week I explored the justifications for the environmental impacts of my research. At first, I noticed myself trying to tackle the question from a scientific approach – I essentially wanted to quantify the negative and positive environmental impacts to concretely establish if what I am doing is good or bad. But this summer I am trying to think outside of this objective sphere. I am here not only to collect data, but to reconnect with the why of what I am doing. Reflecting on my first approach, I realized how it stripped my subject from any value beyond being a unit of a system. In this way, I think of hummingbirds not as living creatures with a right to life that are uniquely amazing and independently important. It reduces my subjects to numbers that can be counted and tested for thresholds of survivability. While this data-driven method is good for establishing scientific grounds for survivability thresholds, justification for collateral damage when doing research, and communicating concrete ideas, I discovered that it creates a barrier between the researcher and the subject. Here I feel split.

On one hand, I think and act as a scientist would, using objective and quantitative viewpoints of the world. Distancing myself from my subject minimizes biased results in emotion or hopeful expectations. Simultaneously, I try to engage the more human side of myself. I want to remember why I am here in the first place, how I feel about the work I am doing, and why I love the hummingbirds I want to better understand. This division between ways of thinking clouded my mind during the first weeks of my project. I was used to thinking in a certain way – so when looking at the same research questions and data collection methods from an ethical standpoint, it made my head spin. Now that I understand the difference between the two ways in which I am trying to answer questions of ethics, I want to find ways to fuse them. My scientific background can complement my emotions and provide communicable evidence for the defense of nature. But a more human approach is necessary for keeping a close connection to the true motivation behind any research that I do.

This week I launched the first and second fleets of camera traps into the field. After configuring the settings and learning to identify local hummingbirds, I set out and retrieved two sets of camera traps on an array of different flowers. Moving this technology out into the field has been more exhausting and challenging than I anticipated. Every morning after breakfast, I configure several camera traps and hike out on a new trail to find flowers at which to set up traps. By mid-day, the sun heats the humid air to create a sticky and heavy jungle haze. I often take a second hike after lunch to set out more traps and get home before darkness. Setting up camera traps isn’t easy. You first must find an appropriate flower. Then you must find a tree that is not too far away and not too close and is skinny enough for the straps and strong enough not to move. Once you have this, you must check the surrounding vegetation for sparsity, so it doesn’t cause false triggers. Then it takes several – sometimes dozens – of tries to correctly angle the lens towards the flower. Then you hope the lighting is good and hummingbirds like the flower you have chosen.

In not expecting this amount of difficulty in setting up, I quickly got hot and flustered over the process. I wanted to cheat. I wanted to take a machete and whack the pesky bushes aside to expose the flower I was interested in. I felt eager to finish or push for results, and it made my actions more reckless. I was leaving behind more of a human trace in my activities. Sometimes my settings didn’t work the same way on the feeders as in the field and I wanted to blame the conditions for my misfortunes. To make temptation worse, I knew that I could do exactly that I want to without incurring any consequences for myself. Many scientists face this dilemma in their research. In the field, I can clearly see the easy way to get where I want. But the easy way, in my case, is both lazy and violent. Lazy, because I am not taking the time to do a thorough and quality job. Violent, because I am thoughtlessly destroying plants I find problematic instead of finding a gentler solution. Neither of those qualities are how I want to be conducting my research; and the decision to do my research the right way is solely up to me. It helps to remind myself of the ethics of what I am doing (why am I doing this?) and then it is clear the only way to do it is the correct way. In the end, it feels good to have set up everything the right way. This feeling lets me know I chose the right path.