Boston and Maine Connection – The Amazon & Project Piaba

Imagine that if you could buy just one fish, you could save a tree, a way of life, a whole community and contribute to the preservation of nearly one fifth of the world’s fresh water reserves. Would you buy it? Would you spend the $3.79 it will cost you? There’s just one catch and it is actually a very small one; the fish needs to be one of the wild caught ones from the Amazon Rain Forest. Sidestep the cloudy controversy around farm raised vs. wild caught. These fish, if they aren’t harvested, will die off in huge numbers, so you are doing them a favor when you add them to your home or office aquarium where they can live as long as ten years. Last month, I journeyed to THE Amazon, the real and original one, not Jeff Bezo’s online emporium. In the Amazon rain forest in Brazil I discovered the close connection between Boston and Maine and yes, the Amazon Rain Forest. Most folks don’t know this yet, but there are more similarities than you might think swimming just below the surface. Here are two examples of ways to innovate. Entrepreneurship is alive and well there. Piaba festival photo by Keith Spiro  I met the founders of the first air water manufacturing plant in the world. Bottled in the heart of the forest from condensing high humidity air, Amazon Air Water will enter the premium water market while returning 25% of the profits back to the community to fund school supplies, computers, tools and the protection of local culture. They were one of the important sponsors of the Piaba Festival that I met during my travels. Project Piaba itself is the 25 year collaboration between the fishing families of Amazonas, Brazil and a non-profit organization headquartered in Boston and led by co-founder and New England Aquarium biologist Scott Dowd. New England Aquarium Biologist Scott Dowd photo by Keith SpiroTheir focus on the ornamental fish trade in the Rio Negro basin of the Amazon has created some incredible connections, friendships and good business. This region in Brazil once supplied a large percentage of the cardinal tetras and other beautiful fresh water fish for home aquariums, public aquariums and zoos worldwide. Project Piaba has quietly helped build structure and support for the entrepreneurial community of over 20,000 people in a sustainable lifestyle model. With nearly one fifth of the entire fresh water of the planet earth residing within the boundaries of the Amazon, we all have a large stake in protecting this ecosystem which does not rely on harvesting the forest or polluting the water in the pursuit of mineral extraction. These wild caught ornamental fish have a high birth rate and a major die-off in low water season so the capture and export of these live fish have worldwide benefit. Fishermen in Brazil and Maine share similar issuesI found amazing similarities between Mid Coast Maine fishing communities and those in Mid Coast Brazil once you got beyond the salt water ocean of Maine vs. freshwater for as far as the eye can see in the Amazon. The Piaba Festival photo by Keith SpiroThe annual Piaba festival was inspired by Scott Dowd’s project and celebrates the fishermen and women of Barcelos and the Rio Negro region of Brazil. For one long twenty four hour period the population doubles and friendly competitions between cardinal tetra and discus fish groups take place in a performance space built especially for it; The Piabadome. You don’t get to choose the group you represent. You are born into one or the other and you gain or lose points based on how respectful you are of the other group’s performance. Cheer them on and gain points, be passive or leave early and your team loses points! How’s that for collaboration? This August Brazil will honor the Piaberas & Piaberos, officially for the first time, by hosting a celebration the night before the start of their next fishing season. The Amazon is everything you might imagine and nothing like you think and it is at risk of being destroyed by the scarcity of traditional work, over regulation, misunderstanding, and controversy that the locals know is as much myth as reality. Sound like Maine’s fishing communities? It sure does. Want more information? Want to apply entrepreneurship principles to your community? Drop me a line and I can put you in touch with like-minded world citizens to help preserve your unique part of the world. Or click here for more information on Project Piaba.   This article originally appeared in THE CRYER of Mid Coast Maine in Keith Spiro’s Column, The Boston and Maine Connection. March 2015. You can see the original article here:B&M Connection March 2015  Project Piaba