Local Aspiring Marine Biologist to Participate in “Think Tank”

Like many young men his age, Nate Toler enjoys the outdoors. He likes kayaking, fishing and snorkeling. But for him these are not just enjoyable pastimes; they are the means to pursue a career in the marine science field.

The Springstead High School junior recently won an essay contest in which he described his future education and career plans in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related field. Nate detailed his goal to become an aquaculturist - a Marine Biologist specializing in coral regrowth and transplant methods. His efforts garnered him a spot as Hernando County’s delegate to the 2017-2018 Sunshine State Scholars program taking place in Orlando in May. Here he will be working with a select group of just one hundred students from across the state as part of a “think tank” addressing Florida’s tough environmental challenges.

Nate with his dad, Bill

Nate took his first steps on his career path when he was just a toddler. His mother Denise, a STEM teacher at Challenger K-8 school describes how this happened.

“We took him to see Finding Nemo when he was about 2½ and he immediately started asking if he could have a clownfish. I told him that he would have to learn about how to take care of them and everything.”

Dip-netting in the Gulf

As soon as Nate was old enough, he started reading and doing a lot of research about clownfish. Eventually his parents bought him a 12-gallon starter saltwater tank and several fish. In first grade, Nate's science project on how clownfish react to light earned him first prize in the school science fair. He went on to compete in science fairs each year and in seventh grade made it to the state level with his project on formulating a special type of fish food.

As he grew older, his mother and his father, Bill, who is a coach and teacher at Challenger K-8 school encouraged his passion. They even went so far as to drive him to Mote Marine Aquarium (two-hours away) every Saturday for a whole school year when he was fifteen so that he could volunteer there.

Nate explains enthusiastically why he is so passionate about this subject and why he wants to devote his life to marine biology.

Exploring tide pools

“The ocean and nature, in general, is where I feel most myself, most at peace. To me, nature is art. The reason I find nature so peaceful stems from this idea that it isn't trying to impress me and yet it never fails to. Nature is poetry in motion, shaped by the laws of science and brought about by the pen strokes of probability. Sometimes, the closest one can be to regaining the harmony we once had with nature is immersing oneself in the ocean in an attempt to appreciate that everything going on around you does not owe you anything, so you just have to go with the flow... literally.”

Nate's biggest love in Marine Biology is corals. His goal is to work on propagating coral reefs off the coast of Florida. After finishing his Bachelor’s degree, he plans to earn a
Master’s at Duke University and ultimately secure a position at Mote Marine Laboratory's Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration on Summerland Key in the Florida Keys.

Besides his parents who, in his words, “allowed me to set up fish tanks through the house,” Nate credits quite a few teachers with encouraging him in his studies.

“I attribute my successes to the support of my middle school science teachers. Mrs. Dill and Mrs. Doulk pushed me beyond my comfort zone, challenged me beyond my current level of knowledge and supported me every step of the way in all of my scientific endeavors.”

Two other teachers, Mrs. Andress and Mr. Shaw gave him the opportunity to stretch even further by creating an elective for him in eighth grade, during which he had the opportunity to teach alongside them and lead the sixth grade zoology/marine biology elective at Challenger K-8 School.

Kayaking in the mangroves

Nate concludes, “At Springstead, I have had Mrs. Sufficool for three years of environmental science. Her confidence and support further strengthens my conviction to enter the field of environmental and marine sciences.”

A formula for success in life and in a chosen field of study: a spark ignited by something as insignificant as an animated film, a supportive family, creative teachers who encourage and inspire you, but most of all – hard work and dedication.