Wednesday, July 05, 2017

All Things Bright and Beautiful! Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish Are Saving the World's Largest Rainforest by Sy Montgomery

Everyone knows those tiny tropical fish--flashing their magical iridescence and bright colors in fish tanks or the aquarium, but most of us do not know that these mighty mites might well be what will save the ecosystem of the Amazon River. the area which produces 20 percent of the earth's oxygen.

At least that's what Scott Dowd, director of the Boston Aquarium, believes. But he didn't always think that way.

Once he had a mission to shut down the capture of wild tropical fish for shipment to buyers for the home aquarium trade. His first sight of a boat loaded with tiny Amazon fish left him horrified:

"My knee-jerk reaction was "This is out of control! We shouldn't be taking wildlife from the rain forest. We should be farming them!"

But then Scott learned that the tiny fish, piaba, in the local language, flourish during the flooding rainy season, but during the dry season the Amazon water level drops 30 feet and leave the tiny fish high and die.

Stranded--doomed to drying puddles!

Ecosystems are highly complex, and, as Dowd soon saw, preserving the income from the capture of the piaba for the local people meant that they would not need to cut down the trees of the Amazon basin for farming or lumbering, activities which would over time pollute, silt up, and actually dry up the Amazon, the "lungs of the Earth." If tropical fish farms out-compete the piabeiros, the local fish collectors, the survival of the river and more than a thousand species who live with it will be threatened.

In Sy Montgomery's Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish Are Saving the World's Largest Rainforest (Scientists in the Field Series) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) takes the reader with noted scientists in the field on a trip up the Amazon to snorkle in the shallows where the shimmering tetras and cichlids hide.

The experts collect specimens of parasites and bacteria which threaten the many piabas for further research to help preserve the bountiful reservoir of life that is the Amazon. Along the way readers join Dowd's young son to swim with the pink dolphin, a unique freshwater mammal, and learn about the "Seven Deadly Plagues," the Amazon's stingray, the Jao, a catfish big enough to swallow a man, the electric eel, the anaconda, the world's longest snake, the piranha, the black caiman, the largest alligator on earth, and the candiru, a fabled spiny fish capable of burrowing inside its victim. They visit with the local fish collectors and share their annual Festival of the Fish, a dazzling local carnaval celebrating the collection of the tropical fish, and learn to respect the importance of those mighty mites, the tiniest of fish who, it is hoped, can help save the mighty Amazon.

Filled with color photographs which document the entire expedition, above and below the waters of the great river, this latest in Houghton Mifflin's Scientists in the Field series, offers an Amazon adventure and a rare insight into the interrelated world of global trade and how it affects everyone. Author Montgomery offers a bibliography, index, and a list of web video sources with advice on buying wild Amazon fish for home, a film of the Festival of Fish, and the only documented case of a candiru invasion in a human body. The film "Amazon Adventure" may also be seen this summer at the Boston Museum of Science.

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