A Guide All Their Own

Three times within the last six years, chair of the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Science Mark Cornwell, has led groups of SUNY Cobleskill students into the Peruvian Amazon. He has no doubt of the study abroad trip’s tangible benefits for student learning, as well as for advancing intelligence on fish about which the world has minimal knowledge.

The trip takes students to Otorongo Expeditions, a fishing lodge owned and operated by alumnus Anthony Giardenelli ’05. There, local fishermen and experts team with students to fish, net, and identify their catches. “A Field Guide to the Amazon Fishes of Loreto, Peru” is the comprehensive guide SUNY Cobleskill’s Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Environmental Science is producing to compile their research findings. Student-research makes up the entirety of the guide’s contents. Matthew J. Best ’15 is currently an instructional support assistant at the College. In 2014 it was his undergraduate research project that launched the guide into production.

“In 2014 [in preparation for our first trip] we were searching everywhere for some sort of guide to familiarize ourselves with what we might be seeing,” says Cornwell. “There was nothing. Once we started taking photos of fish we were catching, we really wanted a guide… Now we can open this up and say, ‘that’s a Lisa Fish – or that’s a swamp eel.’”

Each species in the guide is photographed, given a common name in both English and Spanish, and described with special attention being given to habitat, biology and life history, and distribution. Giardenelli provides Peruvian names as-necessary. Students for the most part will collect and input all information.

“This was not meant to be a definitive guide,” explains Best, “but a guide that is meant to help students. We are writing it for us, but as definitively as possible.”

It is quite definitive. A third edition is being prepared for release, and will contain information on nearly 200 species native to the Amazon’s western-most depths.

Interest in the Amazon trip, and contributing to something the world needs and is able to access (the guide is available for download on the College’s Digital Repository) is a good match for the abundance of still-undescribed species swimming in the Amazon. What Cornwell calls a “bucket-list place” is a one-of-a-kind cultural and applied academic experience.

Feature photo: Led by Mark Cornwell (front, third from left) and Samantha Carey (front, second from left) SUNY Cobleskill students show off a catch during a trip to the Peruvian Amazon.

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