The village of Daracua on Brazil's Rio Negro

Daracua on Brazil’s Rio Negro. One of the destinations for the 2015 Project Piaba expedition

2014 is rapidly coming to a close, the holidays and their associated barrage of commercial messages are in full swing, and chances are you’ve barely had a spare minute to think about what next year will bring. Trust me, I’m in the same boat. But my friend and colleague Scott Dowd (of the New England Aquarium and Project Piaba) asked me to help him spread the word about his upcoming expedition to the Brazilian Amazon, and as I was fortunate enough to have been on this year’s trip, I thought I’d speak from personal experience for a moment.

There are probably a thousand reasons why taking 2 weeks off from your busy life and traveling to the very center of the Amazon Rainforest is simply not possible, but as someone who grappled with all those nagging doubts myself last year and decided to take the plunge in spite of it all, let me put it succinctly: this trip was the best and most thought provoking experience in my entire life as an aquarist. Consider joining the expedition this year and I can promise you it will change the way you look at the art/science that is aquarium keeping.

So here’s the long and short of it: Project Piaba, which some of you may know of, is an organization and mission I think all aquarium hobbyists can get behind. Over the last few years, I’ve worked with Scott and an incredibly talented team of experts from many different fields who have come together to not only study, but try to preserve the beneficial aquarium fishery on the Rio Negro. This collaborative effort between researchers, public aquarists, and the aquarium trade has been years in the making, and there are some really positive outcomes on the horizon already. This year’s expedition will include a number of members from OFI (Ornamental Fish International), as well as a contingent of experts in biology, fisheries, aquatic veterinary care—as well as a number of hobbyists who will be along to take in all the sights the Brazilian Amazon has to offer.

DSC_0333 (640x428)

Seasonally flooded wetland near Manacapuru

Last year I got to see wild altum angels cruising regally past me as I snorkeled the clear blackwaters of Agua Boa. I watched an enormous pair of pike cichlids with a cloud of fry chase off massive eartheaters. I witnessed Cardinal tetras and Apistogramma in their natural habitat. It was beyond magnificent, and I will never forget the awe of seeing fish which I had only ever watched from within the confines of an aquarium as they darted around me in their native habitat.

Typical Igarape habitat densely populated with aquarium species

Typical Igarape habitat densely populated with aquarium species

But more than the incredible sights, the upcoming trip is a rare chance to take an active role in our hobby and help Piaba as it attempts to help this imperiled fishery and protect the fishing grounds which have supported generations of aquarium fish collectors. Last year, we had people from all walks of life aboard—scientists, vet students, as well as mere hobbyists—join the expedition. Everyone, every point of view, contributed to the trip, and I think it was more the late-night discussions on the top deck—under a star-filled Amazonian sky—that really stuck with me.

If I’ve sufficiently piqued your interest, here are the details: There are a few more spots open on this year’s trip, which will take place the last week of January and the first week of February 2015. Project Piaba (a registered nonprofit) doesn’t make money on this trip—but it needs these spots filled to break even. The trip takes place aboard 1 of 2 very well-appointed (and comfortable) ships and the journey will take you from Manaus, the heart of Amazonas, up the Rio Negro to visit the fishing grounds of major aquarium species like cardinal tetras and discus. The cost is quite reasonable considering the destination (and 2 weeks of accommodation!), and there is still plenty of time to reserve your flight and secure a visa. If you make one investment in your hobby this year, consider embarking on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I can pretty confidently promise you won’t regret it!

For more info, contact Scott Dowd via email ( or phone (617)973-5243