After a break in our Q&A series, I’m happy to start back up with 2008 F&S Heroes of Conservation award winner Sandra Millan-Tripp. A marine biologist, English as a second language teacher and angler, Millan-Tripp lives in Old Lyme, Conn., with her husband (and joint award recipient) Jim, and two “curious and energetic” boys Morey, age 10, and Grey, age 9.
Sandra and her husband began their award-winning conservation project after noticing a decline in the local herring runs. They decided to turn their old family mill into a facility to rear herring and salmon fry and formed the Tributary Mill Conservancy in 2004. Their conservancy became a nonprofit in 2007 with the goal of spreading their method of fry rearing across New England.
Sandra has always loved the water, and learned to fish through her husband. She now enjoys going out with her family, catching small mouth bass and occasionally night fishing for stripper and blue fish.
I asked Sandra about her early research into marine mammals in Colombia (because, let’s face it, that’s just cool!), and the Connecticut conservation work that followed. Thanks to Sandra for a great interview. -K.H.
FSHUNTRESS: What made you first want to research dolphins and manatees?
SANDRA MILLAN-TRIPP: I grew up in Colombia, South America, and have always been in love with nature. The areas of conservation and medicine were the right paths to follow. I became a veterinarian and had a great opportunity to be involved with wildlife medicine.
For all the beauty of nature, marine mammals have a special place in my heart. Colombia has so many species to enjoy: two of the three species of manatees that exist in the world (the Antillean and Amazonian manatees), Pink dolphins in the Amazonas region, humpback whales on the Pacific side, and bottlenose dolphins and Sotalias in the Atlantic Ocean among others. Although the conservation efforts are like a grain of sand when compared with the necessity of restoring species that are on the brink of extinction — as Manatees are — the efforts are worth while, not only for the conservation of a beautiful animal but for the ecological role that a specific species plays.
FS: What was the hardest part of your herring and salmon project?
SMT: Finding funds was crucial. My husband Jim and I knew that we had an ecological treasure in the backyard. We witnessed the alewife spawning migration so many springs, and suddenly the population became depleted. We were eager to act and be involved in the alewife restoration — later on with the salmon restoration — but funds were limited. We chugged along for several years with our own resources, small steps, and little by little what began as the desire to help had turned into a non-profit organization.
FS: What was the most rewarding part?
SMT: Stocking thousands of Atlantic Salmon fry into the Eight Mile and Salmon Rivers (both tributaries of the Connecticut River), and finding out that the survival rate is quite promising. Being able to hatch a few hundred Alewife larvae — acquiring knowledge about this fish is quite important to developing a system that could aid in the return of more larvae to the river. Producing the documentary about the Atlantic Salmon rearing activities, which was a great team effort produced with the goal of providing an educational tool for the school systems.
FS: You and Jim are the first married couple to win the Heroes of Conservation award. What does it mean to have a husband as passionate about habitat preservation as you are, and with whom you can share your outdoors pursuits?
SMT: Being nominated as one of the 2008 Heroes of Conservation, and the first married couple ever nominated came to our door unexpectedly. It is a beautiful feeling, almost like a fairytale. Jim is my other half! We compliment each other in such a way that our dreams can become reality. I am blessed with a husband that is not only the father of my children but a friend who I can trust, share and live life with. I have always believed that the family is the nucleus of society as well as conservation. So, having a husband as passionate about habitat preservation as I am means that we will be able to pass along to our children the heart and desire to be part of conservation as well, and together we can share memorable outdoor pursuits.
FS: Do your children fish as well?
SMT: Morey and Grey love fishing! We take the canoe in the pond and they love catching small mouth bass, pickerel, and catfish among others — catch and release. Sometimes we go crabbing. They are looking forward to going fishing for strippers next summer.
FS: How important do you think it is for everyday American sportsmen to do whatever they can, big or small, for the country’s wildlife habitat?
SMT: Just like Theodore Rooselvet once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” The ripple effect of our actions is enormously valuable; many small achievements can turn into a larger achievement. Seeding the hearts of future generations with the desire to conserve, preserve, or improve the natural resources we enjoy today is a must. We as sportsmen (and women) enjoying the beauty and bounty of this planet can set an example of conservation through our actions, by showing respect and appreciation. These actions can be as simple as following the established rules related to keeping sizes, space and seasons for fishing and hunting, or becoming involved with conservation organizations. One person cannot do it alone; it takes all of us.