I’m going to give you a couple of words, and for those of you playing along at home, utter the first place that pops into your head. Reef fishes! Did “Coral Triangle” parade across anyone’s mental ticker tape? If you’re new to the saltwater hobby, let me enlighten you. If you have lots of tropical reef fishes, corals or both residing in your tank, chances are at least some, probably most, of your fishes, corals and other invertebrates came to you by way of the Coral Triangle.
The Coral Triangle is a coral-reef-rich area of the West Indo-Pacific comprising roughly 2.3 million square miles and stretching from the Philippines to the Solomon Islands. By comparison the land area of the contiguous United States, not including Alaska and Hawaii, is 2.95 million square miles. The Coral Triangle is defined by reefs that contain more than 500 species of reef-building corals each.
More than 3,000 species of marine fishes and more than 75 percent of the world’s coral species inhabit the Coral Triangle. More than half of the world’s living coral reefs are found here. If you’ve ever kept a wild-caught clownfish, it was probably caught north of Australia in the heart of Coral Triangle and then shipped to Los Angeles, flown to Wherever, U.S.A., and then delivery trucked to the LFS, where you plopped down some greenbacks and took it to the last home it will ever know – your tank.
Food fishes, aquarium fishes and corals provide livelihoods for more than 2.25 million people who fish for a living within the Coral Triangle. Many of these folks have handled your fish and corals somewhere along the aquarium supply chain.
Hotbed of Freshwater Diversity
As the Coral Triangle is to marine diversity, South America’s Amazon Basin is to freshwater fish diversity. As a case in point, the United States has slightly less than 800 native freshwater fish species, while the Amazon Basin has more than 3,000 species (on par with the Coral Triangle) and counting. Again, many of the popular freshwater fish you and other hobbyists have kept or are currently keeping probably came from South America; if not currently, then originally and up until domestic breeders started mass producing some of the more popular species.
Iconic freshwater aquarium fishes – such as discus, scalare angelfish, dwarf cichlids, rams, cardinal and neon tetras, oscars, hatchetfishes, silver dollars, bristlenose cats, whiptail and twig catfishes, leaffish, pencilfishes, pacus and others – all evolved in the Amazon Basin. There are more than 100 species of popular corydoras catfish species that are sporadically available, with several species commonly available for hobbyists.
The Amazon is the realm of freshwater fish species, and I would like to direct you to a new book that opens up a watery portal into the world of many of the fishes listed in the previous paragraph.
The Amazon: Below Water
Aquarium Fish International writer and photographer Oliver Lucanus forwarded me a copy of his recently published book The Amazon: Below Water, which is a photographic culmination of an 18-year-long obsession with South America but especially the Amazon. Lucanus’ words and especially his eye-catching photos really bring to life the plant, animal (especially fish) and cultural wonders of one of the world’s most-cherished and threatened regions of piscine and other kinds of biodiversity.
The author let me know beforehand that The Amazon: Below Water was not going to be yet another aquarium fish book of the field-guide ilk. Although numerous large-format photo-essay books on the Amazon have preceded Lucanus’ effort – few, if any, are like The Amazon: Below Water. For starters, The Amazon: Below Water offers page-turners a view they’re not likely to see in other books on the Amazon; readers are treated to view from at and below the water’s surface: from a tetra’s or characin’s perspective. In The Amazon: Below Water, the reader is offered well-penned words and many beautiful color and black-and-white images, affording the reader and fish enthusiast the opportunity to “view” what’s going on beneath the surface and to allow prying eyes to spy on discus, arowanas, angelfish, catfishes, stingrays, piranhas and tetras (in all, 142 freshwater fish species are pictured). You almost feel like a fish yourself. Each chapter corresponds to a number on a two-page spread topographic map of the Amazon Basin, which provides a fixed geographic location for each photograph and further brings the region and its piscine diversity to the forefront.
If you’d like to order a copy of The Amazon: Below Water, go to amazon-below-water.com to place your order. The website also provides the background story about the book as well as some of the underwater photography techniques used to capture some of the more dramatic fish images. The website also provides additional images not included in the book as well as interesting video clips giving behind-the-scenes looks at how some of the key chapters were photographed.