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The Small, the Strange, and the Ugly


humphead wrasse pc Paul Cizek CC FlickrWho would have guessed that a fish kiss would help me realize my life’s mission?

On the day I went snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, I was the stereotypical indecisive undergraduate traveling abroad for junior year. During the course of a winding journey along the Australian coast, I went out to the reef. When I jumped into the water, I immediately faced the biggest fish I had ever seen.

The fish was blue, with a bulging forehead above a long narrow face. It was fantastic and weird. Fat fish lips barely concealed its snaggle-teeth. It was nearly as large as I was, and looking directly at me. Without thinking about the absurdity of greeting a fish, I waved to it. The fish immediately came right over and pushed its fat lips into my hand. I would have laughed in delight if I hadn’t had a snorkel in my mouth.

I cupped my hand around its face as it pushed into me like a puppy, pulling me along for a brief underwater ride. It was a charmer, that fish; I later found out it was a humphead wrasse, who are generally friendly and curious about people. That particular fish was the goodwill ambassador of the reef; he arrived every day to greet divers.

I was still high from my encounter with the extraordinary creature, sitting on the deck of the boat, when I overheard one of the crewmembers talking and laughing with another as they passed by. “There’s only two kinds of captains,” one of them was saying. “The ones who hit the reef, and the ones who are gonna.” They were talking about my fish buddy’s home. My hands gripped the railing. I’ve got to do something about this, I thought and my indecision evaporated.

The wrasse showed me my mission; to protect what I love. I love animals and plants, with a particular passion for the small and bizarre, and find intricacies of biology and evolution endlessly fascinating. I’ve always found great joy in learning about all the denizens of our planet; the weirder the better. My encounter with the wrasse inspired me to do something for them. Taylor talking to prairie dogs pc Nicole Rosmarino

As a Guardian, I’m able to turn this passion into action, writing scientific listing petitions for imperiled species including the Rocky Mountain monkeyflower, the only known plant that reproduces through the odd method of creating propagules (mini-plants that are dispersed by wind or water); the Peñasco least chipmunk, a rare subspecies that depends on declining ponderosa pine habitat; the Rio Grande sucker, one of a trio of native fish whose waning populations are indicators of the iconic river’s failing health; and my very own humphead wrasse, whose trusting nature makes them vulnerable to spear-fishing.

As a Guardian I love that my belief in all species’ right to exist and thrive is a core organizational value. And not only the big, beautiful, obvious ones get our attention. We protect the less charismatic or persecuted wildlife such as prairie dogs, who are hated and killed for the same hole-digging abilities that make them ecosystem engineers and a keystone species in the grasslands of the American West.

We value small species like the mist forestfly and the Scott riffle beetle for their intrinsic worth and what they can tell us about the state of their ecosystems, and the health of the planet we all share.

Today my mission is to protect some of the smallest and most overlooked parts of the rare and beautiful kaleidoscope of biodiversity. They often have surprisingly large impacts on ecosystem protection.

I’ve found my path with Guardians, protecting as many of our world’s strange and amazing creatures as I can.

For the wild,

Taylor Jones Signature

Taylor Jones Headshot

Taylor Jones
Endangered Species Advocate
WildEarth Guardians

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photo credits: humphead wrasse and diver—Paul Cizek, Creative Commons, Flickr; Taylor communing with prairie dogs—Nicole Rosmarino.