Interviewing our Inspiration: Featuring Mary Middlebrook

Yes, I know. We are phenomenal. We *totally* don't take forever to post our articles. But the reason to our being amazing, AND the reason to our late articles are one and the same: Mary Middlebrook. Mary (we call her Mary, not Miss Middlebrook, or any boring teacher name) is our loved and dreaded marine biology teacher. She is the best teacher EVER, but she also assigns us more hours of homework than there is fish in the ocean. More homework means less time for extra homework, even if the extra homework is much more important. But not matter how much homework she assigns, we still love her anyway. 

We aren't the only students she teaches. She has influenced the lives and informed the brains of many children. Go to http://nextlevelhomeschool.com/, her website, to learn more about her classes.

She is a very interesting Homo sapiens, and we had the pleasure of interviewing her for our website. Each of the Operation: OceanFixer members has come up with a few intriguing questions, and Mary answers them. There are many questions, ranging from completely serious and scholarly, to downright silly (I, Penny, am to blame for the strange ones). 

Now, I present with great excitement and respect, the fascinating life of Mary Middlebrook! 

Shelly L. Black: What got you interested in marine zoology and biology in the first place?  
Mary: Actually, I went to college for marine biology because it was the ONLY major not offered at the college in the town where my dad lived! I wanted to be on my own- not still living with my parents. So, I chose a major that forced me to leave home. Once I got there, the thing that really hooked me on a love of fish and corals was buying my first aquarium. 

Shelly L. Black: What articles would you look forward to see on the site in the future?  
Mary: Articles about conservation and new scientific discoveries. I'd also consider allowing the new batch of online Marine Zoology students participate in creating articles this September if that's something you guys are interested in. 
Shelly L. Black: What is your favorite animal? 
Mary: A Mola mola. I saw one at an aquarium in South Africa this past December. Amazing creature. 

Shelly L. Black: After traveling the world, what is your favorite place? 
Mary: The next place I'm going, wherever that might be. So, it constantly changes. :) Spring break will be Colombia and El Salvador. Countries are kind of like my children. I love them all equally, for different reasons because they are each unique, but the love is equal.  
Ray T. Skater: What are five tips for being successful?  
Mary: Do things you are PASSIONATE about!! That's the first key. Second, work your tail off to do things to the best of your ability always. Always. In every single thing you do. Third, never stop learning- always push yourself to go deeper. Question EVERYTHING- don't believe something just because someone tells you it's the truth. Research, think, and come to your own conclusion. Fourth, listen to the advice of others and consider it, but always follow your own instinct. Fifth, live a life based in logic, not emotion. That doesn't mean don't have or feel emotion, that is important, but don't base your decisions on emotion. And please allow me a sixth: invest in real estate. :) 

Penny Gwinn: What is your favorite Disney movie?  
Mary: I don't really watch movies or TV. But I do remember watching Pete's Dragon as a kid and LOVING IT!! 
Penny Gwinn: What is your thoughts on Finding Nemo?  
Mary: I don't like it. It made people run out and buy “Nemos and Dorys” for their kids. These fish require very complicated conditions to survive in captivity, and thousands died because of it. It's why I never allow anyone to call clownfish “Nemos.” They aren't. They're Amphiprion ocellaris. Respect them. 
Penny Gwinn: Have you ever pet a monkey, and do you want to have one?  
Mary: I am SCARED of monkeys! I have been out in the wild with several species in jungles in Central America and Malaysia, but I always keep my distance and respect them. They are one of my favorite things to photograph, because there is so much intelligence in their eyes. I would never want to keep one in captivity. They are extremely intelligent and social creatures. They belong in the wild. 

ZMKF: Pick one thing in the ocean to make our Number One priority (this is hypothetical of course, we’re going to make everything our Number One priority if that’s humanly possible): 1) The dying coral, 2) the ocean animals and the many things that affect them (malicious captivity, certain fishing styles, etc), and 3) things humans are doing to the ocean itself (filling it with trash and chemicals and such naughty things like that).  
Mary: I would pick number 3. Because the other 2 problems would be solved if humans would change their behavior toward the ocean and its inhabitants. 

 ZMKF: What are three of your favorite books? - 
Mary: I don't read much. I am literally either teaching a class, grading, or creating a lesson plan Every. Single. Day. I read so much when I'm researching a class (hundreds of pages a month), that when I have time off, I don't want to read anything!! However, when I used to read avidly, I loved the Harry Potter series, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, biographies (especially of Marie Antoinette), and as a kid, I loved a little book called Chippy Chipmunk's Vacation. :) 

 ZMKF: Is (one of) the goal(s) of teaching (for you) that eventually a few students would do something like this? That your knowledge would get passed down by the people you teach in such a unique way?  
Mary: ABSOLUTELY!! I want my students to take the knowledge I give them and use it in the real world. For a student to become a teacher would be marvelous! It's such an honor and privilege to be able to educate people. There's no other feeling like it in the world. And for one of my students to be able to feel that rush of explaining something in a way that light bulbs go off over their student's head in that “Ah ha! I get it!” moment, wow. That would be awesome. :) 
 ZMKF: Has any ocean-related thing you’ve ever taught us scared you?  
Mary: Sharks. Hands down, no question, sharks. Look, I know the statistics. Heck, I TEACH the statistics. But it is rare for me to get into the ocean because they scare the bejesus out of me!! (Shhhhhhhhh. Don't tell anyone!!) 
Goldie Marina: What profession did you want to go into as a kid, and did you ever think you would be a teacher? 
Mary: It's so funny you ask, because from the time I was really little all I ever said I wanted to be was a teacher. I would play school with my friends and I'd ALWAYS be the teacher. I'd make up quizzes and everything! But then I realized that my parents expected me to become a teacher and go to the college in their town so I could continue living with them. I didn't want to do that, so I went to school for Marine Biology. I'm so happy that I made my way back around to teaching!! And that I can do it on my terms. 
Goldie Marina: If you could make one law, what would it be and why?  
Mary: Ban one use plastics (water bottles, packaging, etc...). Plastics are destroying our world. Removing them from the environment (and to cease adding any new ones), would solve a plethora of problems. 
Goldie Marina: If you were an ocean animal, which ocean animal would you be?  
Mary: Turritopsis dohrnii :) 
Goldie Marina: If the ocean would cease to exist tomorrow and you could only save one organism in it, what would you save?  
Mary: Cyanobacteria (phytoplankton). Because it provides the earth with a huge amount of oxygen. So just for our sake, they're handy! :) But being one of the simplest forms of life and being prokaryotic (instead of eukaryotic like the other phytoplankton species), it could jump start the evolution of a huge variety of ocean organisms. It also forms the base of the marine food chain, so that would be firmly in place to allow evolution to flow. Over hundreds of millions of years, our oceans could be full of life again!  
Sealia N. Harbor: Do you think that one day after teaching you will help save the ocean?  
Mary: I don't see myself not teaching. I plan on doing it for as long as I am physically and mentally capable. And honestly, it's the best way for me to have an impact on saving the ocean. Instead of just “me,” I'm teaching children all over the world about the ocean, the life in it, why it is so important to all of us, and the major conservation issues that need to be addressed. The best thing I can do to help save the ocean is inspire the next generation to want to do that. Then, my passions don't die with me- they continue to make a difference after I'm gone. 

Sealia N. Harbor: What is the most dangerous animal you have ever been in the water with?  
Mary: The most dangerous animals I've been in the water with have been inside of aquariums. I've handled literally hundreds of thousands of marine animals over the years, many of which are very dangerous. Cutting (fragging) zooanthids for propagation, which contain palytoxin- one of the most powerful toxins in the world. Being stung by a Hell's Fire Anemone that caused me to lose a day of work and left a scar on me for years. Those are just 2 examples. 
Sealia N. Harbor: What/where was your first job?  
Mary: My first job was when I was 17 and in college. I had gotten very involved in keeping marine aquariums, and I was in pet shops during all my spare time looking at fish and learning about how to keep them alive. When it became apparent that my college fund was running out (thanks to judicious planning on my parent's part <insert sarcasm>, it ran out after my first semester at a very inexpensive college!!), I had to get a job. The only job I wanted was working in a pet shop. So, I walked into one I frequented that had a “help wanted” sign on the door, told the owner that I was the girl for the job, and thus began my 25-year career in the marine aquarium industry. This was in Galveston, Texas, at Island Pet Center, in 1988.  
Sealia N. Harbor: If you could be a mythical animal which one would you be?  
Mary: Fins down, no question, a mermaid!!!!! :) 

Bill Hawks: Tell us an interesting story about...well…something interesting that happened to you?  

Mary: Seriously, I have DOZENS of interesting stories!! I should do a class called “Mary's Interesting Life!” LOL!! I'll pick this one, since you guys kind of already know about it. I found out I was adopted at the age of 37- almost 10 years ago!! I immediately found my birth mother, but she refused to tell me about my birth father. I was at a complete dead end. But then....SCIENCE!! Genetics technology has advanced so much in just the past decade, that now I can order a DNA test kit online, spit in a tube, mail it back, and in about 2 months see if anyone I'm related to has done the same thing! Where there was no hope of finding my birth father just 10 years ago, now there's a lot of hope. Because people are using this technology every day to find their relatives. We'll see what happens...stay tuned! :) 

ZMKF: What's the simplest thing you can think of, where if everyone (or nearly everyone) did it, it would have a definite positive effect on the ocean?  
Mary: Quit using plastic. 

Shelly L. Black: If you had the chance to re-do one year, without affecting the present that much, which what year would it be? 
Mary: I wouldn't redo anything I've done. Everything I've experienced, good and bad, has led me to where I am now and I am very happy with where I am. Sometimes those things that happen in life that seem like you'll never get through them and never be able to deal with them- well, you do. And you come out a stronger person for it. Without trials, we would be weaker people. So, I live a life of truly no regrets. Plus, that allows you to keep moving forward instead of constantly looking backwards and thinking “what if." It's hard to walk forwards if you're looking in the opposite direction. That's how you bump into things and fall off of cliffs. ;) 
Ray T. Skater: Coffee Bean or Starbucks?  
Mary: Diet Dr. Pepper. I HATE coffee!!!!!! 

 Now you have met Mary. And you love her. It is impossible not to.