Posted | Thursday 22nd September, 2011
Marine biologists at The University of Texas are developing means to breed saltwater aquarium fish, seahorses, plankton and other invertebrates in captivity, in order to preserve the biologically rich ecosystems of the world's coral reefs.
They believe their efforts could also help shift the $1 billion marine ornamental industry towards entrepreneurs who are working sustainably to raise fish for the aquarium trade.
"It's the kind of thing that could transform the industry in the way that the idea of 'organic' has changed the way people grow and buy fruits and vegetables," says Joan Holt, professor and associate of marine science at The University of Texas. "We want enthusiasts to be able to stock their saltwater tanks with sustainably-raised, coral-safe species."
Holt is critical of the methods currently used to bring sea creatures from the oceans to the tanks.
"One popular method is to use a cyanide solution," says Holt. "It's squirted into the holes and crevices of the reef to anesthetize the fish. They float to the surface, then collectors will just scoop them up and the ones that wake up are shipped out."
This is extremely damaging. It bleaches the coral, kills or harms other species that make the coral their home; depletes the native populations and contributes to 80% of traded animals dying before they ever reach an aquarium.
Unlike the freshwater ornamental market, which relies mostly on fish raised in captivity, the saltwater ornamental market is 99.9% wild caught. This is largely because there is less accumulated knowledge on how to breed saltwater fish in captivity. Saltwater species also tend to spawn smaller, have less robust larvae which are harder to rear to maturity, and rely on foods, such as plankton, that are not readily available in mass quantities for breeders.
And yet all these difficulties are surmountable says Dr Holt.
She and her colleagues have successfully bred in captivity seven species of fish, seahorses and shrimp which were caught in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, including certain species that other biologists had tried and failed to rear in the past.
Several big aquariums, including SeaWorld have committed to assisting in the breeding effort, and to integrating into their exhibits information about how the aquarium trade impacts on coral reefs.
Learn more at http://bit.ly/r5fcDW