"We had alligators in the yard every time there was heavy rain," said the Texas Department of Transportation environmental biologist, raised in Vidor near the Louisiana border. "Mom would say: `Don't get too close to those gators.' "
Amy, 37, was lucky, he said, because his eyes were on the plants, not reptiles.
Plants remain his focus.
During 15 years roaming Texas as an environmental consultant based in San Antonio, Amy has stopped in his tracks more than 1,500 times to take snapshots of upland, wetland and coastal plants.
"It's kind of a nerdy thing," he said. "But I'm a biologist by trade and by heart."
Along with working on environmental impact studies for the highway department the past two years -- and helping mitigate wetlands -- Amy is cataloging his photos, writing descriptions of the plants and compiling a wetland plant taxonomy for biology posterity, he said.
Documentation of plant images is useful in maintaining databases, said Roy Lehman, senior botanist at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and curator of its Ruth O'Brien Herbarium.
"It is a passion that is important to regional studies of plants and animals," Lehman said.
A drive for accuracy fueled Amy's plant passion, and his need for a home lab he calls his man cave.
"Years ago when I went to a wetland training class, I realized there are so many plants confused, that it started a steamrolling effect cataloging them."
He searched other resources.
"There are misnamed plants in books revered by other biologists," he said. "It drives me crazy. If I see one in a friend's book, I mark a line through it and write the correct information.".
Adding to the scientific name confusion, there can be five or six common names for a single plant, Amy said.
Riding with him can be startling as he skids to a stop after spying a blooming black mangrove or spread of seaside lavender.
It's worse for his wife.
She finds uprooted plants in her refrigerator stored for dissection in the man cave.
"I tell him all the time he's a big geek," said Sundy Amy, a dialysis center nurse. "It's easy to catch Chris on the couch with his electronic notebook looking at wetland plants. He does put it aside sometimes. But it's just what he was meant to do. His grandparents always talked about him identifying wetland birds when he was 6 or 7."
The couple has another biologist in the making.
He takes their 2-year-old son Andrew into wetlands every chance he gets.
"That little boy eats it up," Sundy Amy said. "I knew when he was still in the womb that he was going to be just like his dad. He's already very aware of nature and animals."
Another biologist father is glad to see Amy pass his passion to his son, he said.
"The other item that excites me is his long-term approach to his subject and his pursuit of perfection in details," said Jay Tarkington, aquatic education program director for the university's Center for Coastal Studies. "So many scientists get bogged down with paperwork, management issues, funding, etc. It's nice to see someone so involved and excited about their field."
Tarkington shows students the changing landscape in the Wetland Explorer floating classroom.
Amy oversaw a wetland mitigation project on both sides of State Highway 361 bay bridge north of the Port Aransas ferry.
"It's my little playground," Amy said. "I feel so excited and blessed to see some generation of growth."
His passion inspires others, said Victor Vourcos, advanced project development engineer for the transportation department.
"In any major project that requires regulatory initiatives -- with the Corps of Engineers or Texas Parks and Wildlife -- they recognize that Chris knows what he's doing," Vourcos said. "Chris moves our mission forward to enhance the environment as we develop safer transportation."
People do care about fragile coastal environments, Amy said.
"When I take someone into wetlands they get it -- it's tangible," he said. "The interface between upland and wetland areas has such a vital role in coastal ecology. When people understand better, they can't not care if a development wipes out a wetland ecosystem.
"The barrier islands are our last buffer defense against storms," Amy said, "and when we build on them we're breaking down that buffer. Our wetlands take the brunt of these storms; if they're gone, you can only imagine what happens."Environmentalist Pat Suter, who established Hans and Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge along Oso Bay, said people have a tendency to gloss over the importance of our fragile coastal environments.
"Most people drive by and pay no attention," Suter said. "This man's effort sounds extremely worthwhile to me.
"We need to preserve in pictures, specimen cases, everything we possibly can," Suter said. "We don't know what the future holds, especially what effect global warming is going to have on our coastal plants. I hope he is able to make his work available to all of us.
"I greatly appreciate his doing this valuable work."