Written by Natalie Lynn Lichtenbert
Sitting outside on my front porch, I had a coloring book on my table and a huge box of crayons with a multitude of colors to choose from. The coloring book of choice was of songbirds and the one I was working on that day was of a robin. Oh, the joy and pleasure of immersing myself in nature, being outside with the birds and other wildlife, while also partaking in really learning about the surrounding world through the use of color. I grew up an only child and yes, at many times, this really bothered me. At a very early age I was alone yet found complete company in the surrounding natural world around me. Stories like The Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland and Watership Down I felt I could really relate to.
Fast forward to moving through the grade school and high school years. My projects, reports and after school activities reflected my still growing love of the animal world. I was fortunate enough to have a father that took me to so many of the National Parks across the U.S., such that, I experienced not only backyard life but also truly wildlife of all shapes and sizes! Soon enough though, we all get older and learn what is really going on in life. How all these creatures I have grown to know and love were being threatened by climate change, pollution, human activity and more. And hence, upon entering college, my activism began!
I took the roundabout way to getting into Conservation work. In college, instead of going into my dream career of environmental science, I had taken the safe route of going into medical science where my dad promised me I would always have a job. Well, no words could have been truer, especially in light of our recent pandemic and the fact that my job was not only safe, but that as working in developing research tools for Covid, my job was thriving. But alas, I jump ahead.
After many years of working in the medical laboratory science field, I had heard about a program through my local zoo and Miami University called the AIP Program, which essentially gave one a master’s degree in Conservation Leadership. These were some of the best years of my life! Not only was I learning about the field that I love the most, I was able to participate in field work! My first research stint occurred through this program where I did reef transects in the Great Barrier Reef, assessing the amount of coral bleaching vs. the amount of thriving, live coral. There was no better place on earth to learn this! From that moment on, my lust of travel, research and conservation work TOOK OFF. I had finally fell into my life’s mission!
Taking me to the current moment in time, I am still a medical laboratory scientist…and yes, I dream every day of using this scientific background in ocean conservation, especially for sharks, mantas and my beloved dolphins…I love everything about the ocean! So then, how am I doing conservation work now you ask? To get as much experience and background knowledge as I can, I’ve gotten extremely involved locally in monarch butterfly conservation with the Illinois Monarch Project, in creating a Zero Waste Warrior Committee through my work with the Climate Reality Project, Chicago Metro Chapter and non-locally, working with such groups as Beneath the Waves which work to complete scientific discovery in order to create future large Marine Protected Areas.
Whew! So, then, if I am currently working with such fabulous groups and people, why do I feel alone still at times? My greatest goal is to get more people to feel connected to the natural world, to care, and feel inspired to get involved themselves in creating positive changes for our fellow creatures. My greatest anguish is feeling like my message is falling on deaf ears, that while people love a pretty picture on social media, they then turn and go back to their lives. “That’s so great that you do that” is what I often hear. But what I would like to hear and see more often is, “you inspired me to get involved and do this to help wildlife!”…now that, my friends, is music to my ears.
For more of Natalie, check out @natalielynn_lichtenbert on Instagram