By Rhett Butler

Opportunities for Tropical Fish Research in the Field
Earthwatch Institute is a nonprofit organization that engages people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment.

Earthwatch offers volunteers short-term opportunities for directly assisting scientists in their field research. These are expeditions for ongoing research projects confronting critical, current issues, run by qualified and respected members of the scientific community. In some cases, Earthwatch volunteers work in areas inaccessible to tourists; pristine regions that only researchers are allowed to enter. Most projects are 10-14 days long, but there are also one-week, three-week, and weekend opportunities available.

The following are projects involving tropical freshwater fish. These projects may be of interest to hobbyists who would like to work with fish in their natural habitat and contribute to ongoing research in the ecology of freshwater fish.

Rivers of the Peruvian Amazon - Documenting Amazon river biology and hydrology as part of an international program to protect these waters
    "Inambari, Tahuamanu, and Manuripe Watersheds, Madre de Dios, Peru - For the plants, animals, and people of the Amazon Basin, rivers are the arteries of the forest. They bring water, remove wastes, provide habitat and food, and serve as highways. Much life depends on them. As this region is developed and more and more people and human economic activity move into the area, however, these watery lifelines could be compromised. But they cannot be protected unless we understand how they work, what animals live there, and how people use them. Until recently in this region, however, there had been little research into these topics." more from Earthwatch
Queensland Tropical Fish Ecology - Assessing the impact of floodplain riparian restoration on stream ecology
    "Douglas Shire, North Queensland, Australia--Located between the tropical rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef, the rivers of this rolling floodplain provide a vital link in regional biodiversity. The historic clearing of riparian vegetation, trees and other plants that grow along the rivers, has had serious impacts not only on local stream ecology, but also on the coral reefs downstream. Increased nutrient and sediment loads from coastal rivers are considered the most important water-quality issue facing the Great Barrier Reef. Several years of riparian tree planting programs have restored some stretches of river, but the benefits of these efforts have yet to be assessed.

    You can help explore the effectiveness of riparian restoration in improving stream health by comparing the ecology of fishes found in streams that are uncleared, cleared, and restored. Working with Dr. Frederieke Kroon (CSIRO), you will collect data on fish habitat, water quality, plant and invertebrate samples, and the distribution and abundance of diverse fish species. Detailed information about many of these species is rare, due to their inaccessibility and lack of commercial value, so expect to make discoveries.

    You will do a wide variety of tasks, ranging from assessing the physical structure of riparian habitat to using various traps and nets to collect shimmering samples of fish. You will also collect samples of plankton, use kick-nets to collect macro-invertebrates, and measure water-quality components such as turbidity, temperature, pH, and nutrients. In the field, you'll learn to identify fish, invertebrate, and plant samples, and to record data, while back at base you will help preserve samples and enter data into a computer database. The data you collect will help identify key fish species that will aid land managers in assessing the effectiveness of their restoration practices."
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