Authored by Cody Bliss
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moments that led to my fascination with nature and the outdoors. I grew up in town outside of Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania. Throughout the early years of my life there were no extravagant trips to far away destinations or encounters with charismatic megafauna but rather brief moments of time spent exploring the local forests, pastures and small creeks that meandered throughout the rolling hills of the Laurel Mountains. My mother had little to no understanding of the natural world but rather an inherent draw towards these natural spaces. On random weeknight evenings, my three siblings and I would be spontaneously corralled into our car as my mom headed towards to the mountains for what she referred to as “a ride”. Each turn she reassured us that she knew where she was going as we twist and turned on back roads deeper and deeper into the forest. I would watch the deciduous forests pass through the windows and escape into a world of internal thoughts and curiosity. In those moments I hardly knew that natural spaces were being engrained into my identity.
It was not until years later that I experienced my first “ah-ha” moment with a natural environment. My aunt was heading to the coast for a summer beach trip with my cousins. A quick stop at my grandmothers and a sequence of last minute events led to me joining them on their excursion to the beach. Our 1996, eight passenger conversion van arrived well after dark. As we pulled up to the coast, I pushed my way past my cousins and luggage and ran onto the beach and into the moonlit water. “How could this exists for so long and I had never seen it?” I thought. As I stood peering out onto the horizon, my imagination ran wild as to the possibilities that lay beneath the surface. All of sudden it was as though I was back in that car, watching the forests pass, filled with questions and fueled by curiosity. This single experience to the coast oriented the next two decades of my life.
Determined to be a marine biologist I jumped at every opportunity to learn about the ocean. This soon became a part of my identity. As years went on each decision made was done with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. After graduating from high school I was determined to replace my landlocked state for one with a coastline. I applied and was accepted to two universities, Hawaii Pacific University in Oahu and Lock Haven University in central Pennsylvania. One was what I had always dreamt of, the other was the safe bet with lucrative scholarships and grants. After some realistic reflection and heavy consideration, I opted for another four years being contained by the landlocked borders of Pennsylvania. Truly a blessing in disguise, this tiny state school provided me with a well-rounded background in environmental ecology and the uncanny ability to relate any topic in class to a marine example. Quickly known throughout a terrestrially focused biology department as the “marine science kid” I was presented with numerous research and internship opportunities in marine science including a research project working with coral reefs in Roatan, Honduras.
After earning my Bachelor of Science in 2010, I moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to begin my Masters of Science at Nova Southeastern University. During this time I completed over 2,000 scientific dives throughout south Florida, the Florida Keys and the Caribbean where I was exposed to a wide array of coral reef research and coastal zone management projects. My thesis focused on an endangered coral species and the biological responses of the coral during a reciprocal transplant experiment between two different regions along the Florida Reef Tract. Like most recent graduates I was still unsure of what I wanted to pursue as a career. I accepted positions working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection until settling into an environmental consulting agency. It was through these experiences and others that I realized my innate interests in storytelling and learned the power of communication and education as a tool for conservation efforts. It was also during this time that I began to understand how my early days exploring the forests and later years intrigued by the ocean were related- both fueled curiosity.
To this day I still experience a sense of awe at the vastness of the ocean and humility when standing at a mountain vista. What remains constant between these two contrasting environments is the desire to explore these pristine natural areas and continue to seek answers about the landscapes and life throughout. And when I learn those answers, when I meet those as passionate as I or encounter an organization that’s entire purpose is to preserve these natural spaces and life within, I want to tell their story, I want to inspire action, I want others to experience that moment, as I did many years ago that night on the moonlit coast. To tell the stories of the Orianne Society is a great privilege and honor.