Dabra's market begins late today, around 3 p.m. That gives Jerry and Paulus plenty of time to collect fish along the Furu River and its streams while making their way from camp to meet the canoe to Dabra.
The Furu reflects olive green and brown, and is often carpeted with algae-covered, slippery stones. The water flows clear and cool, displaying leaves and stones and fish even in deep pools.
"I really want to find the Melanotaenia praecox," says Jerry. He tells us that a friend of his, a pilot, landed in Dabra several years
|Gerald Allen and Paulus Boli, with help from Pak Foisa, use snorkel masks, seine nets, and hand nets to catch fish. © Debbie Gowensmith|
ago. This pilot spent only about an hour looking in streams around Dabra and found the praecox. "It's neon blue from head to tail," says Jerry.
At one deep pool, shadowed by tree cover, Jerry and Paulus put on snorkel masks and jump in with small nets.
After about fifteen minutes of searching, Jerry hands me a clear plastic bag filled with water and several fish smaller than an inch. The fish are almost translucent with tiny brown specks. Jerry is thrilled to find them. "This species hasn't been recorded since the 1930s!" he says, then tells me this is the Gobius tigrellus.
At a faster flowing section of the stream, Jerry holds a rectangular net against the gurgling water and kicks up rocks to find the gobies and other fish that hide beneath them. In the very still, almost fetid waters, Paulus and Jerry wade with small nets and work together to chase the fish into the nets.
By noon, Jerry and Paulus have sampled most aquatic habitats on the way to the muddy bank where the canoe is waiting for us. My black rubber
| Litoria nr Arfakian. © Debbie Gowensmith|
boots squish into the mud, which rises all the way to my shins. Flies rise like a cloud of dust, then settle back into the footprint I leave. No breeze reaches this bend of the Furu, and it's so hot and sunny that I wonder why the mud hasn't baked solid.
A small dugout canoe transports us to Dabra. The canoes are made from forest trees that are hollowed by a combination of chipping and burning. Short wooden planks or saplings straddle the canoe as seats. Some canoes are outfitted with outboard motors; most are powered in the traditional way-flat wooden paddles.
The paddle dips rhythmically into the water, and the canoe pitches from side to side. I search the banks for
|"At the market, our group becomes the spectacle of the week."|
crocodiles, especially when we meet the muddy Mamberamo.
We don't see any crocs until we reach Dabra, where a resident calls us to his doorway to look at two crocs, each about three feet long, that he has preserved and varnished. He's selling them for 50,000 rupiah about six dollars. No takers in our group. I take a picture of the crocodile skull outside the man's house, though. The skull itself is about three feet long, and I feel even more relieved that I didn't see any crocs from our rocking canoe.
At the market, our group becomes the spectacle of the week. The local residents are first distantly curious until Jerry starts taking photographs of the fish people bring and lay on the grass. Then a crowd surrounds him. How odd
| Local residents buy, sell, and trade at the Dabra market © Debbie Gowensmith|
they must think we are, taking photographs of fish instead of buying them to eat.
While Jerry takes pictures, I look for cuscus, cassowary, turtles, lizards, and snakes. I find nothing to report back to the mammals, birds, and herps teams. The market is filled with dozens of people laying fresh fruits and vegetables on mats or on the grass, but the only animals for sale are fish.
Jerry and Paulus discover that the Mamberamo is home to six introduced species of fish. "Introduced species are just terrible for the native ecosystem," Jerry says. He explains that they compete for resources, alter the vegetation, and sometimes eat the native species. This kind of information will add a piece of knowledge to the puzzle of biodiversity in the Mamberamo region.
We ride back to the Furu as the sun sets, munching on sweet bananas the size of my thumb and watching birds like bright red female eclectics parrots return to roost for the night. I'm glad I remembered to bring my flashlight, and three of us follow its beam during the last one-third of the hike to camp.
Paulus is grilling catfish on a bamboo grill he's constructed and placed over the campfire. It's past dinnertime, but everyone is waiting for today's fresh catch. It's an introduced species of carp.
But I have to admit, it tastes delicious.
- Reported by Debbie Gowensmith
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