Tracking arapaima in pursuit of management and conservation
Arapaima sp., male ~1.5 m total length, Mamiraua, Brazil (Photo: Donald J. Stewart).
Fisherman with Arapaima on ice ready to go to market, Mamiraua, Brazil (Photo: Donald J. Stewart).
About the project

Description of the project and research questions being asked

Amazonian wetlands and their inhabitants are endangered.  This includes arapaima, an economically valuable, giant fish. In spite of their endangered status (IUCN and CITIES), arapaima remain among the most sought-after food fishes in tropical South America and populations are alarmingly low. Their populations have been depleted due to over-fishing and illegal harvesting. Arapaima can support the livelihoods of fishing communities and the arapaima has become a target of management initiatives by fishermen’s groups, non-government organizations, and the government sectors. However, a lack of knowledge on their basic biology may compromise these efforts. Managing arapaima requires fisheries regulations and habitat conservation. This includes conserving areas where arapaima feed, breed, make nests (yes, they make nests!), and raise their young. Additionally, the forested habitat where arapaima are thought to breed and reproduce are increasingly degraded. A principal objective of my research is to use telemetry studies to explore arapaima migration and evaluate protected area and management designs. 
However, things that live under water are harder to see and harder to track. It gets even more interesting (and complicated) when under water habits expand due to flooding.  This work will follow at least 25, tagged arapaima throughout the course of the year. With the help of a GPS and habitat maps, the movements of arapaima will be illustrated and analyzed.
See what we hope to discover about arapaima migration below!

Why this matters and should be exciting to backers

Unfortunately, freshwater fishes are generally under-represented in science research, policy arenas, and in leading conservation schemes.  However, freshwater fish, their habitat, and people are all connected.  For example, local peoples depend on arapaima and habitat to support their livelihoods while the arapaima depends on habitat to survive and reproduce.  At the same time, both the fish and the habitat are threatened.  In the face of over-fishing and habitat loss, this research will inform the ideal size, shape, and habitat needed to maintain arapaima populations.  This information will be used to in the development and design of management units in the lower Amazon and, ultimately, contribute to the recovery and conservation of arapaima and wetland habitats, specifically forested floodplains.
Although other methods have been used to begin exploring arapaima migration, but the technologies I will use have not been used on arapaima.  In fact, ultrasonic technologies have not been extensively used in the Amazonian region, and never on arapaima. Although there have been other techniques have been used, studies and results have been limited.

What your money can do 

Your money will be used to buy tagging equipment, mainly tags. Other costs for equipment and field expenses will be shared by various partners.  Any excess money raised above the minimum goal will be used to buy more tags and result in a bigger, more robust study.  In fact, raising more money will allow us to maximize the use of fix costs and conduct a much bigger project. For example, if we raise twice our minimum amount, our project will, without a doubt, be able to tag more than twice as many fish.  Here’s to hoping!

Potential discoveries 

Although some telemetry work has been done with arapaima, little is known about arapaima migration and habitat use throughout the year.  This work aims to characterize arapaima migration in the lower Amazon along environmental and human density gradients.

This project will answer the following questions:

- What does a map of their movements look like?

- Where do the arapaima go during the flood?

- Where do arapaima take their babies while raising them?

- When do young leave their parents?

- How much do they move around?  Do adults move differently than young?

- Do they always come back to the same lakes? 


At an early age, I developed an interest in biology and ecology through camping/ hiking as a boy scout and by working as an outdoor guide. Over time, my interest matured into a passion for research and the natural sciences. I aspire to help people and the environment, and believe those two things are not mutually exclusive.  I have been involved in research and conservation projects in the tropics of South America, Asia, and Australia and have sustained my involvement in these areas through various small grants and personal funds. My experiences have shown me the importance of science in conservation and the need for an interdisciplinary approach for effective action.  I am now living in Brazil where I am doing my PhD research on the ecology and conservation of South American arapaima, among the largest freshwater species of fish in the world.

Additional Links

More about arapaima

More about me

More about my lab

Thursday December 13, 2012
Backer only update
Wednesday September 26, 2012

Wow! WE did it! The goal was reached (and surpassed)! Regardless of how much you gave, I thank you all for your unbelievable support, kind words, and amazing gestures. I can still hardly believe WE did it. Our goal was achieved and my research will begin soon! This would not have been possible without your support. I really look forward to keeping you updated about the research you are now a part of!

Wednesday September 26, 2012

Thank you for all the unbelievable support!! We reached the goal with time to spare!! Please feel free to still spread the word and donate (there is no limit to how much people can contribute, just a limit to how much I needed to receive in order to get the pledges). Any extra funds will help make this project that much stronger! You guys are unbelievable!

Wednesday September 26, 2012

With three hours to go, we really are nearly there:  95%

Just 5% left!

Tuesday September 25, 2012

Less than 12 hours to go and we're almost there!  Please check out some of my bloopers:

I had a great time putting this video together and sharing my project with you all!

Tuesday September 25, 2012
24 hours left! Please spread the word and skip the Starbucks to add another $5 to your pledge!
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This project was successful!
$10 +
become a virtual team member and get email updates with written and video journal entries from the field
$25 +
the above, and a postcard from the Brazilian Amazon
$50 +
all the above, and framed photograph from the field (of donors choosing from select list)
$125 +
all the above, and a letter of appreciation on official SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry letter-head
$275 +
all the above, and a choice of official SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry polo or T-shirt and signed copy of select reports and/ or publications
$450 +
all the above, and a signed and printed (color) version of field journal entries, with bonus photographs from the field
$850 +
all the above, and a “coffee-table” styled book with stunning photos from the field, including information about arapaima; also includes personal acknowledgement in all reports and publications
$1,500 +
all the above, and a live presentation to an audience of your choosing: (a) in person (in New York State, tri state area, or location within “reasonable” distance of Syracuse or New York City); OR (b) live-skype presentation
$5,000 +
all the above, and an assortment of gifts and souvenirs handcrafted by communities living in the lower Amazon, near the city of Santarem; also includes an invitation for you and a guest to my wedding with the lovely Camille R. in New York City in April of 2013- we’d both love to thank you in person!
and 160 others