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Interview 10:45 - 20:44 Play 10:45 - More
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Brandon T. Bestelmeyer  







Laguna del Tigre National Park; Oil development  

Interview 22:07 - 46:10 Play 22:07 - More
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Barry Chernoff  








NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
Apr 1999

  • Guatemala
  • Las Guacamayas Biological Research Station
  • 17.24667   -90.29306
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo

Guatemala dat #6. log
abs time 00
amience at dock with generator, but a squeak..
engineer fooling around.

starts again at
(generator with crickets behind, nighttime sound.
ends 9:48.


interview with Brandon Bestelmeyer (bb)


my name is brandon bestelmeyer and i am a community ecologist who uses ants to ask question about the diversity of life on the planet. ...i'm a finishing phd student at col. state univ. i'm the scientific team leader, i am responsible for directing an putting together the science.

cj: doing field bio here in tough conditions, is it a hard job?

bb: not really they take care of themselves, they know what they're doing and they go do it.

cj: what is it about this place, what is unique about Laguna del Tigre and this whole ecosystem.

bb: ....probably the single most important thing about Laguna del Tigre national park is that it's smack in the center of one of the largest areas of tropical forest left in central america. a lot fo the Mayan biosphere reserve has been used multiply to harbor populations, and this is one of the last holdouts, this is a place where there should be no compromise in terms of allowing deforestation and oil exploitation etc.
12:55 **

cj: and what is the situation with oil in this area.

bb: well there's oil development going on within the core area, which is Laguna del Tigre biotope, there's been some grandfathered concessions that have come in and they've also allowed for some new development to occur inside the park, little is known about the env. impact, little env. impact work done and the effects of oil development in terms of contamination of groundwater, as well as having al the people come in on the roads to colonize the area and work in oil fields and illegal immigration to set up ranches and things like that has gone unmonitored and the impact unevaluated.

cj:(we can hear boat?)

cj: it's early so far, but how is it going?

bb: oh the project is working good. We¿ve had a few snags in getting equipment to people but Barry Chernoff has found 50 percent of the fish species known in the area, he's found one new species
(boat in background), folks are rg a lot of wildlife here which is actually pretty encouraging considering the level of human impact here, and the diversity is of many of the groups seems relatively unimpacted.

(boat sound..we wait)


cj: on oil exploration. What about the govt of Guatemala? Are they behind you?

bb: they are actually, the guat govt is stuck in a very difficult position, on one hand this is a rel. poor country and they need resources to develop and it happens that 40 percent of Laguna del Tigre park overlays an area that is compatible with oil development so it's bad luck in planning of park with respect to some of those oil national resources. so consejo national por areas protejidas conap actually wants us to perform's actually a govt regulatory organization that runs the national parks. and they are interested in having do this work so they can better decide where further oil development should occur. 16:22

(ticks crawling up linda's leg...."what are these, little ticks? oh yeah! are we standing in a tick field? 16:34
yes we are.
take a look at this leg. see all those little ones.
linda..all right i can put boots and pants on, that would keep the ticks off?
cj: no that's all right.

end 17:12



BB: THEY REALLY WANT US TO GET THIS INFORMATION FOR THEM, THEY HAVE NOT HAD A BIO ASSESSMENT OF ANY KIND DONE WITH RESPECT TO OIL DEVELOPMETN in and outside the biotope. and they are very interested in knowing what is going on what the oil companies are doing to the environment and the hope is and certain members of conap are going to be able to utilize this information to strike a development between conservation and development decision in the area.

cj: how receptive will the govt be to the notion that this sort of research limits the amt of oil exploration? if you come back with a report that says we are getting toxic amounts of oil, toxicity in fish, what choices does that leave them with.

bb: once again this is a rapid assessment, it's not meant to give a comprehensive idea of the impacts in the areas. but it is intended to do, we are going to sample two sites, one near oil, and one far away, and there are other factors that enter into that, if the impact is great it can serve to illustrate the difference, here is what your park used to be like, here is its future, if this development is allowed to continue unchecked, and that can provide an impetus to solicit more research efforts inside the park, and also it can create a realization of what may be lost and sort of shift the balance toward conservation instead of throwing it 100 percent at development which is easy to do when development sort of amounts to money.

end interview with BB

rattling with boat,
cj: we're at dock monday morning with barry taking a look at fish he caught last night in the gill nets.

(more rustling of plastic, banging in metal boat.)
22:02 good banging and plastic sound.

Barry chernoff:
I don't know if they told you what we got last night but it's really exciting. two things, one new thing for the expedition which is this sea catfish which lives its entire life in fresh water.

cj: why call it a sea catfish then?

bc: well its its from a family of sea catfishes, family of Ariidae, which is common on the gulf coast of the us, but this one lives its whole life in fresh waters and you see it¿s got the stripes over the eye, this one if Potamarius nelsoni so we hadn't caught this yet, but this is really exciting.
cj: that's a beautiful fish
bc: yeah you should recognize this fish
cj: uh, the head looks pretty odd

bc: take another guess (laughs) this is a're a fisherman, they smoke it in florida.

bc: it's a mullet, we're pretty sure its the genus Mugil which is one of the common mullets off the coast of the u.s. but it's never been seen here before so this is the first record of this mullet in this river system.

cj: could this be a food fish for people?

bc: yeah its a wonderful eating fish for people they eat it along the gulf coast, people smoke it it brings in a lot of money, its quite good, they don't hit a hook and line, they feed on plankton and small insects they have very small mouth
cj: yes it's tiny

bc: and if you put your finger inside the mouth you can see they have no teeth. feel, the mouth is very flat, so you're not going to catch em on hook and line but on nets like we were using...they suspected there was another mullet here....this is the first record so it's really quite exciting.
cj: the few times anyone has surveyed fish in this area

bc: herman what would you say? 3 or so intensive surveys up here
Herman: in this spot, i would say two.

cj: two in history?
h: yeah before him...a Michigan ornithologist, who collected also snails...(off mike)..only one after that (off mike)

cj: so what is that ugly looking instrument.

bc: it is is an injector (sound of it) we are going to fill this with preservative and inject some of these fishes


so that they are preserved properly for museums. it's really ugly cause it's used for cattle and horses it looks like a hand pistol with a needle in it. for vaccines and all sorts of things.

(sound of injector) i found this at an expo for veterinarians and i said, ah this is what we need, cause we were working in south america and we were using all these needles and they kept breaking in these big fishes we were at a vet congress talking about biodiversity believe it or not and we saw these and believe it or not this is what we need. (good sound behind him)

so we are going to cut open these fishes and examine their state, now the mullet here is, this is an e.g. it doesn't live it's whole life in fresh water it breeds in marine systems, its anadromous, those that run up into fresh water and then run into the sea to spawn.

(rattling, banging)
(sound of plunger)
(it's not working
(he mutters "technical glitch)
not getting suctions, that can be a problem. why aren't we getting suction?
that's not good, it's moving properly...there you got it,,no, i see (more of same)

28:11 (clicking of plunger in the clear **) (could use)
bc: this stuff is really nasty
(more plunger in clear at 28:38)
bc: well we can always read the instructions.
(stop down)

bc: so now we are filling the syringe (slight sound)
bc: oh just bent the needle
(plunger in clear **)
bc: putting it in the musculature in the back
29:36 (good sound)

bc: this preserves it. and prevents it from what i do is make a slit on the right hand side to let the preservative into the body
slit the belly
let's take a look and see what this is
it's a male and you see this right here, this white tissue this is the testes and it feels in good shape, no parasites, no obvious parasites inside the cavity here, that's a very healthy fish, male. now these fish unlike some of the others aren't necessarily times to the cycle of inundation here bec. they are going back to sea to breed, and when they do that, we're not sure, we need to study one of these fishes into the area, how long do they come in for, what are they feeding on, when are they moving out.

(good rustling of plastic)31:25

bc: now we have the sea catfish, Potamarius.
slicing the belly open here
this is a male also but it looks very immature, you see here not much, this yellow tissue running back there they are the testes (grunting of fish in background)..that smooth yellowish white tissue are testes..
we have here a gar, and we're going to
(generator starts up in background)
(fair amount of generator sound in clear at 32:49 et seq)

33:01 oh this is a big male and boy is this ready to go, it's tissue here, this white tissue ., all testes they are very enlarged.

bc: these fishes are timed toward a period of inundation, rainy season, rains come and the water level rises rather quickly and the rains being in about may, and so we believe the fishes are gearing up getting sperm and eggs, tests and ovaries ready for reproduction and we confirm this by slicing open fishes and examining the condition...

cj: finding a lot of eggs
bc: lot of eggs, and testes enlarged and ready to go. so as soon as the rainy season starts they are ready to begin their reproductive activities..

(spanish in background, walking)
bc: another mullet
bc: oooh...this one was in the net all night and as you can see it's quite foul. (he washes it in water, good sound)

this is also a male but testes are very small. they're not reproducing in river.
here another gar, they do reproduce in the river, let's find out what's going on here.
(big squish with knife thru fish), cutting sound.
(some generator in clear after that)
another male, and its testes were very enlarged (wrapping plastic sound)
we have another mullet that i predict, you can see it died, and there are gases from bacteria that are beginning to consume this
yep rotten fish
cj: i hope you get paid well to do this
bc: (laughs) well for all this pleasure they can't pay you enough
so this is a really great series for these mullets, we caught five or six, one partially eaten in net either from croc or turtle, it was probably a turtle (voices in background)
(bc: grunts)
(water from cleaning fish)
cj: ten bucks a day and all you can eat
bc: ten bucks a day and all the slime you can stomach.

this is a beautiful, a small same species of gar, but small specimen about a foot and half 14 15 inches maybe, this thing is probably a year old, probably spawned about a year ago (spanish in background)
(good cutting into fish noise)...are they spawning at such a small size, good to know...and here's a good case it's another male, but you see in this case how thin and small the testes are relative to other organs so this one not probably going to spawn in this season, and it may take a couple of years, and that¿s important to conservation of species to know how long it takes them before they start to reproduce, you can wipe out the small one s and have nothing in he reproductive classes.
39:08 (generator noise in the clear)

(loud squishing of fish cut)
(more generator and water sound in clear)
to 39:37
bc: mullet and gar and the sea catfish (loud squishing as he cuts another one, as he says the names)***

bc: yesterday we caught members of the freshwater catfish family that lives here, one from south america that extends north, but this one is a sea catfish. oh this one is very dead....

4040 (generator in clear)
40: 50 ok have another gar here, yeah (cutting noise) they are eating mostly vegetable matter and that rots very quickly...we let them set out the whole night. and here's another immature individual, this is an immature female, see this granular tissue here by my thumb those are very small eggs)
41:40 (some generator in clear)
41:54 (cutting sounds)
bc: see now look it, you saw the amller gar before, look at how large the testes are in this male, see how large and white, so this one is ready to spawn, it's slightly larger, so it's older
(water rippling)
ok so here's a female that's very ready (gar), look how ready these eggs are, extend down the side, the size of individual eggs, they look like the head of a push pin, like a shirt pin, larger than the other female, she is ready to spawn. so tying and understanding this whole area, tying the reproductive season to periods of inundation to the types of habit of fish for adults and where young are growing up is critical to maintain the type of biodiversity and maintaining the fish that might be economically useful like the machaca we caught the other day.

it's not too bad

a boat motor starts
( he has a shad )
45:21 (boat motor in clear to 45:32, then
bc: wow, and the herrings are abs...look at this, they're probably just beginning to spawn now, you can see the eggs are extruding ..all the yellow inside, they're all yo9ked u and ready to fertilize so the herrings are have probably already begun their reproducing the larvae will wash downstream..they use the natural river cycles to develop and come back upstream 46:09 (followed by background generator, boat gone, some wrapping plastic noise to 46:14

bc: mmm, not just for breakfast anymore.

(we talk about why the fish squeaked, strigulating, moving fin over a boney plate)

***ambience of generator in background, birds
end ambi at 48:20


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