In this second of a three episode series, Andres Hernandez reads his story of Gilbert the Grouper. The story explores concepts of resilience and was written as part of a Duke Engage summer program at Duke University Marine Lab. The program was run by Dr. Liz DeMattia, director of the Community Science Initiative, with the assistance of PhD student Laura Givens, who was the site coordinator for Duke Engage, in 2022. Following the ‘reading’, Laura interviews Andres on his experiences in the program and the logic of the story.
Laura Givens is a PhD candidate in Dr. Tom Schultz’s Marine Conservation and Molecular Facility at the Duke Marine Lab. The focus of her research generally takes advantage of advances in genomic technologies to address community response to environmental change. Her current research uses environmental DNA to examine the success of oyster reef restoration and the extent to which introducing aquaculture supplements biodiversity. Laura graduated with a B.S. in Biology from California State University, Sacramento in 2018 and has received the Smithsonian Graduate Student Fellowship. She co-leads the coastal branch of the Scientific Research and Education Network and in her free time enjoys painting and beach walks with her dog.
Dr. Liz DeMattia is a Research Scientist at the Duke University Marine Lab and the founding director of DUML’s Community Science Initiative. Liz has more than 25 years of experience conducting ecological research and developing environmental outreach for community-based conservation programs. When not working on education and conservation programs, Liz can be found swimming in the ocean, hiking in the forest, or hanging out with her family.
Andres Hernandez, author of ‘Gilbert the Grouper’
Andres Hernandez is a sophomore at Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, where he plans to co-major in global health and international comparative studies with a minor in French. This Summer at the Duke Marine Lab, Andres worked with the Wildlife Resources Commission in producing a mockumentary and website with the goal of promoting sea turtle protection practices. He also collaborated with the Carteret County Public School System in building a Resilience curriculum and workshop. In his spare time, Andres enjoys tennis, fishing, and going to the beach.
Maggie Murray, illustrator of ‘Gilbert the Grouper’
Maggie Murray is a sophomore at East Carteret High School in Carteret County, NC and volunteered to bring the Duke Engage fables to life with her illustrations. The illustrations were completed with water colors and ink pen. When not drawing and painting, Maggie can be found playing her violin, swimming, or listening to true crime podcasts.
Find the illustrated version of the story ‘Gilbert the Grouper‘ here.
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TRANSCRIPT: Seas the Day Episode 32
Gilbert the Grouper
[music – The Oyster Waltz]
Liz DeMattia: Hello listeners, welcome to Seas the Day! This is Liz DeMattia with our second episode bringing lessons from nature into the classroom via story telling. In the first episode, you heard the story of Ollie the Orca written by the wonderful Duke undergrad Amy Buckalew as part of her Duke Engage program at the marine. lab. In this episode, we’ll talk about resiliency, talk about using nature and storytelling to understand the term resiliency, hear Andres’ Hernadez read his story “Gilbert the Grouper”, and then talk with Andres about resiliency in nature as well as in the classroom.
So let’s jump in…. Resiliency is a buzzword these days, but what is it? In general terms, resilience can be defined as the ability to recover from disturbance. Here at the Duke University Marine Lab, one of the primary ways we think of ecological resilience is in the context of our natural environment and how coastal ecosystems can bounce back after flooding, storms, or even hurricanes. For example, we see resilience when we look at marshes and living shorelines that stabilize soils and protect shorelines from extreme waves, wetlands that absorb water during flooding, or even fish and marine mammals populations that bounce back after a disturbance. But what about personal resilience? How do people respond to disturbances in their everyday lives? One way to think about personal resilience is to think about it in terms of personal skills that allow an individual to bounce back from something difficult. And those skills have been distilled into six pillars or roots of personal resilience: self-awareness, self-regulation, strength of character, optimism, and connection.
I could read you definitions of these roots of resiliency, but definitions are sometimes boring, especially for abstract ideas, and definitions can be hard to internalize. So, instead of definitions, our Duke Engage Marine Lab students set out to use storytelling as a way to describe and understand personal resiliency and connect personal resilience to our natural world. Whether it’s about the life habits of a grouper, how trees grow into forests, or about an orca needs it’s pod, these examples highlight the roots of personal resiliency using nature, transporting us with story into nature and provide us with another avenue to think and learn about personal resilience.
With no further ado, here is the amazing Andres Hernandez, reading the fable he wrote titled: Gilbert the Grouper:
Andres: Once upon a time, in the deep waters of the Atlantic, there was a young grouper named Gilbert.
With his mom Gertrude and father Gustav he lived a pretty nice life, eating anything he could fit his mouth around.
This all changed one day.
It was a quiet morning and the family was chasing wounded blue runners and jacks for breakfast.
“Haha too slow,” Gilbert mocked as he beat his old pops to yet another baby almaco jack
“That one was really small, don’t get ahead of yourself.”
“But you always say 3 inches is enough.”
Gustav sighed .
The guys exchanged their usual banter as they kept hunting for breakfast.
All of a sudden, two 10-pound bonito fish dropped out of nowhere.
“Hold my kelp, son, I’ll show you how it’s done,” exclaimed Gustav.
He looked at Gertrude, “Honey, come here it’s time for the adults to eat.”
Faster than you can say “free fish and chips,” the grouper couple had engulfed the two bonito.
Very oddly, Gilbert’s parents started being pulled up by an unknown force .
“Sweetlips, what is happening?!” exclaimed Gertrude.
“We’re HOOKED,” declared Gustav.
He looked down at his young boy as he was being raised by over 100 yards of fishing line .
“Gilbert my son, find protection– go to the mang-”
He disappeared. Gustav and Gertrude the grouper were never seen again.
For a few days, Gilbert stayed behind a rock, terrified and mourning the death of his parents
As he was replaying their last words in his mind, Gilbert thought to himself: “Wait dad said go to the “mang?” What could he have been trying to say? Go to the mangoes?! No way.
All of a sudden, young Gil had a lightbulb moment: “THE MANGROVES!!!” he screamed.
Every fish around looked at him as if he was crazy.
“It’s good that he’s handsome,” sighed a nearby red snapper.
It was decided: At the crack of dawn the next day, Gilbert would set off on a journey all the way back to shore.
There, he would find his new home in the deepwater mangroves.
After 10 days and 10 nights, our finned friend completed his journey to the coast.
He was able to get comfortable in a nice hole under the mangroves
Here, Gilbert would have more protection from fisherman and other dangers
Having said that, the adjustment was anything but easy for our orifice occupant: feeding proved to be very difficult.
It wasn’t long until he made two covert comrades, Shane and Sheila the snook, who had a very different hunting style:
As soon as a school of mullet would swim by on the surface, ZOOM! Shane and Sheila would burst out in pursuit, weaving in and out of the mangrove roots.
The two striped sidekicks would laugh as young Gilbert clumsily barged into branches and got absolutely left in the dust by the zigzagging baitfish.
“Help Snookbro, I’m stuck!” Gilbert would desperately gripe to Shane when he found himself wedged between mangrove roots.
This pretty much summed up Gilbert’s first few weeks at the mangroves.
All of this changed one day:
Gilbert was going through the usual futile routine of trying to chase mullet.
After 6 attempts of seabranch slalom for food, the young grouper was tired.
“Just ambush and retract.” said a voice out of nowhere.
“Huh, who said that?” asked Gilbert, looking around.
“Behind you.” said the voice.
Young Gil turned only to see a small pair of eyes peeping out of a large rock.
The speaker fully emerged: it was a large cubera snapper. With scars all over his body and a thin barnacle mustache, Gilbert could tell he had been around.
“Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Cornelius the Cubera Snapper,” he declared.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Gilbert the Grouper!”
“Okay enough talk, come inside my rock with me and we’ll get this done the right way.” asserted Cornelius
The two went into the cave, and Cornelius taught Gilbert the ambush predation tactic: The two would stealthily peek out the cave and whenever a small fish or crab would swim or scuttle by, Gilbert would very quickly pop his body out and grab it.
With this masterful method, Gilbert had a full belly in no time.
It got to the point where the young grouper was trying to slurp down creatures that were almost his size!
“Okay relax, with power comes responsibility.” Cornelius wisely advised. “Come on son, you can barely fit your mouth around it!”
“Oh trust me Cornelius, I can show you what these cheeks are capable of.” retorted Gilbert as he tried to choke down a full porgy.
The old snapper rolled his eyes.
All of a sudden a pilchard landed right in front of Gilbert’s nose
“Oh here we go!” thought Gilbert as he opened his mouth to vacuum the little fish.
“No, STOP!” screamed Cornelius as he shouldered Gilbert out of the way.’
“What was that for?!”
“That little fish had a hook in it! If you bite it, you’ll be pulled in and eaten by a really odd creature”
Sure enough, when Gilbert looked he saw a small piece of metal that had been put through the nostrils of the little fish.
“Oh shoot you’re right, good call!” exclaimed a grateful Gilbert.
Once again, another pilchard landed near the two fish. This time, however, the hook got stuck in a branch. The angler tried to shake it loose and the bait fish fell off.
“Hasta la vista!” said the now-free pilchard.
Cornelius and Gilbert laughed as the creatures angrily screamed trying to get the hook unsnagged. Gilbert stopped laughing, however, as he realized this piece of metal had been what had taken his parents away.
As Gilbert’s feeding habits fell into place, so did other aspects of his life. His mangrove hole proved to be a great personal space, whether it be for mourning his parents or just having alone time.
Having said this, the young grouper found great success in balancing this personal time with fun experiences and conversations with his mangrove mates.
Cornelius served as a father figure to Gilbert, as he would continue teaching the ways of the mangroves and other sage lessons he had learned in his long life. It got to the point where Gilbert playfully called Cornelius “o wise one” “his old man” and “daddy.”
The old snapper didn’t have children so he appreciated this.
Eventually, Gilbert decided it was time to venture back out into the deep waters in order to live the rest of his life.
The mangroves were nice and all, but he was literally out-growing them.
And with all the wisdom he’d learned, Gilbert the Grouper knew he’d never be HOOKED.
LAURA: Once again, that was Andres Hernandez with Gilbert the Grouper
Gilbert showcases his resilience in a few ways – Andres tells us how in the following interview, as well as the connections between resiliency in nature and in the classroom.
LAURA: I’m here today with Andrés Hernandez, author of Gilbert the Grouper. Andrés, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?
ANDRES: Okay, so, I’m Andrés Hernandez obviously. I’m a rising sophomore at Duke, I’m from Fort Meyers, Florida, and my major is Global Health and ICS, which is international comparative studies. I came to the marine lab because I want to learn about the marine biology aspect of certain marine concepts rather than just experiencing them, and yeah, just to have more experience as well.
LAURA: Can you walk us through the development process of how you wrote this story?
ANDRES: At first the assignment was to write a story for children that, essentially, shines a light on resilience and the concepts, as well as drawing a parallel with ecological resilience. And my idea was to write something that appealed more to like younger kids, but more like high schoolers that are facing hard times in terms of psychological resilience. There’s a lot of social pressure of course, so it’s a peak time for lessons like this. And I had to factor in that rhetoric when writing the story, because I’m used to writing all these academic papers, but I had to tone down and think of my audience really.
LAURA: Yeah, that’s great, I mean you did a good job! Would you actually be able to define resilience for us?
ANDRES: So, in a nutshell, resilience is the practice of restabilizing and recovering – I guess you could say mentally – after a certain hardship has happened. This can be minor or major relative to who you are, it could be something social at school – that’s what it normally is – and that’s what comes to mind. And there are six pillars which come to mind with resiliency, among them are optimism, connection, self-awareness, strength of character – just to name a few. And all of those tie into defining resiliency.
LAURA: Would you want to talk about the pillars that make up your story?
ANDRES: There’s a lot of connection that goes into it, because Gilbert obviously relied on his parents very much at the start. But then they got fished up by a group of anglers. But when he reached the mangroves, he found a father figure in a cubera snapper, and he was able to find connection with mangrove-mates as well and make friends with them too. And I would say strength of character is definitely present – Gilbert was having trouble feeding in the beginning, but he had to stay true and think to himself:
“This is not working. I’m used to just being able to stick anything in my mouth pretty much and just ambush it, but I can’t really do that. I’m trying to chase stuff around, but I have to tone down and learn how to do it the right way.”
So yeah, for a young fish I guess you could say that shows a lot of strength of character. Same with self-awareness, in that sense he knew what he was doing wrong and he reached out for help. And definitely optimism, because he could have just stayed there and mourned his parents, but he realized that hey, I’m going to be fished up just like them, so I need to find safety in the mangroves.
LAURA: That’s wonderful, and these are all great concepts, and I can see why they’re important. Can you talk a bit about why these concepts are important, specifically to school age children, and the middle schoolers that this is developed for?
ANDRES: So, I tried to draw a parallel in between Gilbert finding a safe space in the mangroves versus how we need to find a safe space, and know how to balance being social but also taking time for yourself. I remember in my personal experience in middle school, you almost feel like there’s a criteria for how much socialization you should have. Like you’re thought of as an introvert if you don’t socialize enough, and I think a lot of middle schoolers have this problem with this misconception – the truth is that you do need time for yourself. I was trying to draw that parallel with Gilbert and how being alone in the mangroves in his hole was integral, but he also balanced it with making his other friends and I think that’s a big part of this high-pressure social scene in middle school. That you need to grasp that balance.
LAURA: Yeah, that’s a good point, I know that middle school is a very turbulent time. So, this is a great lesson for them to be learning then. Can you talk a bit more about the connection between personal and ecological resilience?
ANDRES: Essentially its very similar – it’s based on the same concept, that ecological resilience represents a species’ ability to bounce back (I say bounce back, that’s pretty informal, but I mean recover like population wise and strength of population and the individual.) So, essentially for the goliath grouper that meant using the mangroves as a sanctuary to be able to recover the population and not be as vulnerable to commercial fishing and trawl net bycatch. And I would say the parallel between there and middle school is like I said, it’s very important to be able to recover from the different traumatic situations in a high school and middle school environment. This is the most common example, and I’m going to go to it probably more often than I should but there’s also very difficult situations in life such as death, loss of loved one, or just any other social difficulty as well, as I’ve been saying. And in both cases, environmental and social/mental, you could say, there needs to be a period of recovery. And that optimism, that connection, that self-awareness, those are all key in order to be resilient. And resilience is essentially like I said, just the ability to restabilize and recover so in both cases there’s recovery and restabilization, you could say.
LAURA: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense, and it’s probably easier for these students to draw those conclusions by giving them an example that theyr’e familiar with. I’m sure a lot of the kids around here have gone fishing and done a lot with fish. Well thank you Andrés for talking with us today – it was great to hear your story and have this talk with you!
ANDRES: Of course, thank you for having me
Lisa Campbell: Thanks for listening to Seas the Day. Today’s episode was produced by Liz Demattia and Laura Givens, with editing help from Junyao Gu.
The story of Gilbert the Grouper was written and read by Andres Hernandez, and illustrated by Maggie Murray.
To learn more about the author, or to find an illustrated version of the story, visit our website at sites.nicholas.duke.edu/seastheday.
Our theme music was written and recorded by Joe Morton
Our Seas the Day art work is by Stephanie Hillsgrove.
If you liked this episode, please leave us a rating in Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen; and follow us on Instagram and twitter @seasthedaypod.
Thanks for listening.
END OF TRANSCRIPT