Can a hobby lead someone into greater knowledge of the natural world and genuine concern for places they’ve never visited? The answer, according to Texas A&M graduate student Liz Marchio, is a resounding “yes.” For the past four years, she’s been studying just that—the powerful connection between leisure and the natural sciences. Marchio herself is proof that a hobby can become a passion for a faraway place. In her case, that place is the Peruvian Amazon. At this year’s Aquatic Experience, Marchio will be sharing her own journey from hobbyist to activist—and showing others how they can begin such journeys of their own.
“When I was younger, I was very interested in keeping aquariums,” said Marchio. Her love for aquarium keeping, which began in 2000, led her to study zoology and animal biology for her bachelor’s degree, and biological sciences (with an emphasis on ichthyology) for her master’s. It was then that she realized that, though she held a great interest for fish, the topic that most intrigued her was how her aquarist’s hobby had led her to not only a master’s in ichthyology, but a love for the Peruvian Amazon, as well. Furthermore, her interest was not only in her own story, but also in the many stories of others whose hobbies had likewise grown into lifelong missions. As a result, the focus of Marchio’s graduate studies became “Science as Leisure,” and she began to research the connection between aquarium keeping, scientific literacy, and conservation mindedness, attitudes, and behaviors.
Marchio’s theory is that the practice of keeping ecosystems teaches hobbyists about science and conservation. Additionally, she believes that, as these hobbyists become increasingly attached to their critters, they similarly become attached to entire species and their natural habitats—even if those habitats are on the other side of the world. “I’m interested in how people become interested in fish and maintain it through their lives,” said Marchio. “I believe [that], as you progress through the aquarium hobby, you become more scientifically literate.”
Marchio’s fieldwork in Central and South America and her research on “Science as Leisure” have won her the Marine Aquarium Society of North America Scholarship. In addition to her graduate studies, Marchio has spent time speaking to various groups about her scientific experiences abroad and the importance of conservation. During her session at Aquatic Experience, Marchio plans to provide a virtual guided tour through the aquatic habitats of the Madre de Dios region of Peru; drawing attention to the biodiversity within the Peruvian portion of the Amazon River. She also plans to inform her listeners of the challenges faced by the species of the Xingu River. “I’m hoping that people take away the importance of biodiversity as a whole,” said Marchio.