By Norma J. Salcedo, Grice Marine Laboratory
I am a biologist who was born in a desert in Perú. My hometown, Lima, is a city of 10 million on the Pacific coast of South America. The beaches, the waves, and the sunset painting the sky all sorts of red are my soul’s fuel. Naturally, as a young undergraduate biology student I tried to stay as close to the ocean as possible. But, as a college junior I fell in love with other waters…
Physical map of northern and central South America showing the Tropical Andes.
September 20th, 1995
I was looking forward to this trip to the Amazon basin since the day I learned about it. We got together at the Museum of Natural History in Lima to depart for this Ichthyology field trip to the Perené River, tributary of the Amazon. Once at the museum we realized that there were nets and buckets for samples occupying most of the space in the jeep. So, after arranging people, buckets, and backpacks everything fit.
September 21st, 1995
After a 6-hour drive across the mountains, the feel of traveling like sardines in a can faded away. All those amazing stories of adventures in the Amazon that we heard about in class became reality: we were in the amazing Perené River!
Ichthyology class of 1995 in the Perené River after getting out of the jeep.
Now what? We were seven undergraduate students, buckets and nets in hand, with little or no idea as to what to do with them . My ichthyology professor approached me with a pencil and a bunch of forms, and showed me how to fill in the Field Book and off he went giving instructions and different tasks to each student. I did the best I could at the speed at which the group was moving collecting fish. Our first collecting station was a little creek that drained into the Perené River. We didn’t have a GPS so the field notes had to be as precise as possible, and a figure of the general area would illustrate the collection site so it could be found in the future. We collected two specimens of the cutest little catfishes in that creek, but only in that creek.
In September of 1995 I fell in love with fragile and unique ecosystems. I saw streams and rivers that start as little creeks, up high in the mountains, where your eyes can’t reach. I felt cold, clear, fast waters as they make their way into valleys supporting life throughout their way as one of the most incredible and species rich environments of the world: the Tropical Andes.
I went back to the Perené River many times after 1995. In 2003 the creek described for HO9502-01 was dry. The slopes of the Andes are changing. How fast, or why? We are not sure. It makes me sad to think that my students might not get to see the beauty of the waters that one day got my heart.
Hernán Ortega still takes his Ichthyology class to collect fish in Andean rivers, just like he has been doing for about 30 years.
Many biology undergraduate and graduate students support the collection building at the Museo de Historia Natural in Lima (MUSM) by volunteering and conducting research to complete the requirements of their theses.