Aquarium Fish make for an Ecotourism, Non-profit Combo

Map of the Rio Negro Basin. Photo Credit:

Passengers from around the world, diverse in character and their scientific, social, educational and/or professional fields embark on a journey involving the “Dorinha” and her crew in exploring the river waters of the Rio Negro Basin, Amazonas, Brazil. What do you think is to be expected on such an adventure? When taking the popular perspectives of the Amazon by those who have never experienced firsthand its mysterious appeal, it may be one of exotic animals, the idea of poor villages, “uneducated Indians,” attacks by mosquitoes, and perhaps an increasing fear of the Zika virus. (At least these are the common views I received before and after my journey)

What species of bird do they see? Captain Mo is holding his bird caller as the passengers try to spot the birds in the trees. Photo Credit: Kayla-Maria Martin

But there is much more than I could have ever expected, including the goals of a U.S based non-profit organization called Project Piaba that places an interdisciplinary twist on its interests in the aquarium fish industry. In what I would like to call a collaboration with the Amazonia Expeditions Co., a Manaus based ecotourism company that utilizes brilliant scientific learning with its clients; this duo has the ultimate potential in positively impacting for a sustainable fish industry within the communities and individuals whose daily lives may depend most on this system in the Rio Negro. There exists an ability to establish and manage a self-sustaining model of capture of aquarium fish, transfers from local fishermen to export stations located in the capitol city of Manaus, and export out to aquarium folks and enthusiasts around the world. At the same time, involvement in monitoring the health of fish from their capture to export, water quality testing, considerations of the global impact this model may create with its success, and creating connections with the communities of people who have the potential to benefit most from this system are a few of the concurrent, and reachable objectives.


An aquarium tank filled with angelfish in the main center of the town of Barcelos, Brasil. Photo Credit: Kayla-Maria Martin

Known as the largest blackwater river system in the world, the Rio Negro contains a vast amount of species richness in animal and plant fauna within its tropical rainforest climate. Home to nearly 90 endemic fish species, the Rio Negro additionally holds over 100 species of fish sought after by the aquarium fish industry. The variety of fish species I was able to encounter included the smallest catfish in South America, to the ravenous piranha, and the vibrantly popular cardinal tetra. Catfish, angelfish, discos, tetras, arawana, piranha and cichlids are merely a small portion of the variety of fish species that exists in the Rio Negro in which I saw firsthand. It was some of these species of fish Project Piaba and Amazonia Expedition folks were able to collect together for identification, study, and perform examinations of fish health during our travels. In addition, a number of these species were what could be found at a transfer station in the town of Barcelos, at an export station in Manaus, and be discovered in aquariums around the world.

Take a preview of those sharp teeth. This piranha was caught during one of the last fishing trips. Photo Credit: Kayla-Maria Martin

The voyage provided for an educational exploration of the natural spaces and people where this model can be considered unique, and one of a kind in the world. Late night explorations, snorkeling and fish collections, seminar talks, birding adventures, hiking endeavors, witness to an increase in wildfire, meetings with local communities, long treks through woody debris ravaged rivers, audience to a lively, annual fish festival in the town of Barcelos, and full immersion into the beauties of nature are only a few of the undertakings I had the privilege of experiencing during this voyage. It was certainly the lead of the Dorinha crew that made all this possible for us, as their knowledge base to our natural surroundings was quite vast to say in the least.

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Elias, one of the Dorinha’s crew members, leads the way for us on our green canoe. Photo Credit: Kayla-Maria Martin

In the end, I must recognize that this learning privilege would not have existed without the cooperative work between Project Piaba and Amazonia Expeditions. I look forward to seeing the relationship that may continue between the two, and may develop with future collaborators as there is a great potential in establishing positive change for a sustainable fish industry and community development within the Rio Negro Basin.

If you wish to learn more about Project Piaba and ways that you may want to get involved, visit: Perhaps, you may want to take an adventure and learning of a lifetime yourself!

No matter where in the world you are, kids definitely have one thing in common. They know how to enjoy the silly things in life. Photo Credit: Kayla-Maria Martin

Special Thanks: I am eternally grateful to the variety of support I received for embarking this opportunity. Much thanks to Dr. Sam Chan and Tania Siemens from the Oregon Sea Grant College Program at Oregon State University for their always enthusiastic support for furthering my own, and other students futures. Thank you to aquatic veterinarian, Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan, from the Hatfield Marine Science Center for sharing, and allowing me to join him and the rest of the Project Piaba folks on a growing experience. Thank you to Amazonia Expeditions Co. for introducing a glimpse into the enigmatic world of the Amazon. Thank you to Project Piaba for your work, I have the highest hopes for the growth of an astonishing organization. Mahalo nui loa, and Go Acará Disco!!!

DSC_0060 (2)Kayla first started at Oregon Sea Grant as a PROMISE intern after graduating from Oregon State University in 2014. She has since been a part of the program as a Marine Educator, working in the areas of watershed health and invasive species research and educational outreach. She has been involved in developing an AIS toolkit lesson plan for K-12 educators, assisting with the Oregon Invasive Species Council (OISC), visiting local schools to teach more on invasive species, specimen collections, conducting survey-based research studies, and supervising student interns and workers. She will soon be starting her Master’s in Public Policy at Oregon State University.



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2 Responses to Aquarium Fish make for an Ecotourism, Non-profit Combo

  1. Tanner Davidson says:

    All of this is really cool.

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