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Finding balance

UGA faculty Bud and Mary Freeman help Ecuador
preserve biodiversity while accommodating eco-tourism

Bud and Mary Freeman’s September trip to Ecuador was a whirlwind—in 10 days, the couple collected fish from 25 different sites in the Pastaza River Basin.

The Freemans serve as volunteer collaborators with the Global Water for Sustainability (GLOWS) Program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The samples, which will help them establish a baseline survey of fish in the area, were the first step in helping those in the Pastaza River Basin protect their rich biodiversity while meeting the needs of growing eco-tourism.

“We often had to drive over one-lane suspended wooden bridges and take makeshift cable cars across raging rivers,” says Bud Freeman, faculty member at the Odum School of Ecology and director of the Georgia Museum of Natural History. “And once we reached our destination, a familiar sight would often be the local residents snorkeling, swimming, washing clothes and using spears to capture fish to eat or sell. The rivers are very much a part of daily life for the locals.”

In these bodies of water that ultimately flow into the Amazon River, the variety of fish is incredibly diverse. “In North America, we have one family of catfish with fewer than 50 species; in South America, there are multiple families of catfish with the largest having 700 described species,” says Mary Freeman, adjunct faculty at the Odum School and U.S. Geological Survey ecologist.

And for the Pastaza River Basin, one of the most rapidly growing areas in the region, having clean water and dealing with regulatory issues is essential. Balancing this growth with protection of the natural world is the ultimate goal of this project.

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photos by Peter Frey

Click on image to enlarge

A team including UGA faculty crosses Ecuador’s Pastaza River in a terabita, a gondola-like metal basket on a cable. From left to right, Elizabeth Anderson (AB ’98, PhD ’04), deputy director of the GLOWS Project and professor at Florida International University; UGA faculty Bud Freeman; Anita Falconi, a graduate student at Central University in Quito, Ecuador, and technician at the Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales; and UGA adjunct faculty Mary Freeman. The group crossed the river to sample a tributary that feeds into the Pastaza.

Sampling the Upper Pastaza River are (left to right) Tom Saunders, a graduate student at the University of Florida; Bud Freeman; Seth Wenger, associate director of UGA’s River Basin Center; Juan Francisco Rivadeneira-Romero, ichthyologist at the Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales in Quito; and Falconi.

Rivadeneira-Romero, Wenger, Mary Freeman and Falconi examine the haul from their net. The bulk of what they collected was armored catfish, and there is a good chance they collected a species that has not yet been described.