Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2018 - 53
Connecting kids with nature: An aquarium summer camper examines some silverstriped
shiners up close after snorkeling the Conasauga River.
er species George and her staff are
working to save from the impact of
habitat destruction, overfishing and
dams, that is foremost on her mind.
This morning, the raceways-
long, pale-blue tubs where the bony-plated fish have been bred and
raised-are empty. The 700 juvenile
sturgeon are on their way to Knoxville, where in a couple of hours
George's team will release them
into the French Broad River, marking the near-completion of a 20year effort that has put more than
200,000 specimens back into their
native east Tennessee waterways
and helped save the species from
"It's pretty crazy when you think
about how long that is, to realize
we're coming up on the end of it,"
says George, 38, who took over as
chief research scientist and director
of TNACI in 2006 and was recently
promoted to the position of vice
president of conservation science
and education for the entire Aquarium. "We're starting to look for
spawning activity because the biggest metric of success for this whole
program is whether the sturgeon ac-
tually start breeding in the wild on
Vivacious and chatty, George is
no stereotypical scientist. When
she's excited about her work, which
is most of the time, she's been
known to describe various fishes as
if they were "Finding Nemo" characters and talk so fast it's hard to
"I like to claim it's the enthusiasm," she says with a grin. "The
world is so gorgeous and fascinating, and fish are so incredible, that
I want everyone to have the same
enthusiasm that I do."
As a child, the Houston native
frequently moved with her family,
from Bogata, Colombia to Tuscaloosa, Alabama and later, Blacksburg,
Virginia. Following a seventh-grade
class visit to Dauphin Island Marine
Lab on the gulf coast, George talked
her mom into sending her to a summer sea camp to study ocean fish in
After participating in another camp in the Cayman Islands,
where she learned to scuba dive
and got to see tropical wildlife 100
feet beneath the water's surface,
Students from Gap Creek Elementary near Knoxville help release
juvenile Lake Sturgeon as part of a year-long study of watersheds.
she knew she wanted to study fish
for a living.
But it wasn't until her junior
year at the University of Virginia,
when she collected specimens from
streams and rivers near Jefferson
National Forest, that she fell in love
with the freshwater world.
"It really was at Mountain Lake
[Biological Station] that I started
realizing that here in the Appalachians, we were overlooking the
treasures in our backyard," she says.
"We should be very proud of that."
Not even a six-month stint
working with kangaroos, koalas
and reef fish in Queensland, Australia, could woo her away from
her newfound passion.
"I had a blast. I loved it," she
says. "But I had really been captivated by the class at [the University
of] Virginia the semester before. So
when I started applying to graduate schools, I applied for freshwater
George's penchant for aquatic
biology, she says, fulfills a deepseated desire for discovery. "Water
is something that is so foreign to
us," she says. "We're very used to
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