New Article from AIMS via Coral Magazine

Micro Reef Builders in Their Final Century?

05 Jun, 2013

Foraminifera "Star Sand,"  Baculogypsina sphaerulata, greatly enlarged. Hatoma Island - Japan. Image: Psammophile.  Baculogypsina sphaerulata

Foraminifera “Star Sand,” Baculogypsina sphaerulata, greatly enlarged. Hatoma Island – Japan. Image: Psammophile.

Most are smaller than a pinhead and are largely unseen by humans who don’t have a magnifying lens in hand, but foraminiferans or “forams” are found in countless numbers on the world’s reefs, often forming part of the matrix of sandy substrate that can fuse into hard areas of calcium carbonate.

Amoeba-like organisms that typically secrete a calcium test or shell to protect their soft bodies, forams are estimated to generate some 43 million tons of reef carbonates each year. Their appearance varies tremendously over an estimated 275,000 species, most all marine bottomdwellers that measure less than 1 mm in diameter. Some species grow larger, including the Red Tree Foram, Holotrema rubrum, which can hitchhike into reef aquaria on live rock (Shimek, 2004).

Now marine scientists are fearful that the entire class of foraminiferans may be among the first group of organisms to disappear as ocean waters become more acidic. In fact, forams as a class may be extinct by the year 2100 say a team of scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

Dr. Sven Uthicke, Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

Dr. Sven Uthicke, Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

“Forams–or foraminifera –are much like an amoeba with a shell,” explains Dr. Sven Uthicke, lead author of a study which was published in May in the journal Scientific Reports, an online journal of Nature. “As CO2 levels increase, our oceans will become more acidic, making it more difficult for these small marine creatures to form the shells they need to survive.

“These simple organisms are vulnerable to increasing ocean acidification as they lack the complexity and energy reserves of other skeleton-based marine creatures, like corals and sea urchins,” says Uthicke.

Volcanic Vents in New Guinea Provide Clues

“We conducted a study in Papua New Guinea, where subsurface volcanic activity has caused naturally-occurring CO2 to continuously bubble up from the seabed. These “CO2 seeps” have created localised changes to seawater acidity similar to those expected throughout the world’s oceans by the end of this century if CO2 emissions continue unabated.

“These seeps provide important clues to what the marine world might look like in the future,” he says.

“Our analysis of samples collected more than half a kilometre from these seeps revealed healthy and diverse communities of forams, similar to those you would find on the Great Barrier Reef. However, the samples we took closer to the seeps, where CO2 concentrations were higher, showed a very different picture.

“In the high CO2 conditions closer to the seeps, the water was more acidic, and disturbingly the number and diversity of forams was significant lower. We also observed intermediate effects of acidification on forams such as corroded or ‘pitted’ shells.

“Of most concern, not one single species of foram was found in samples drawn from locations where conditions had already reached acidification levels predicted for our oceans by 2100 in all but the most optimistic emissions scenario.”

Mass Extinction Echos

The results echo mass extinctions of marine organisms that occurred millions of years ago, when the Earth experienced significant increases in CO2, temperature or both. Although some forams were able to survive during these past events, the current rate of CO2 increase is much faster than anything seen before.

Dr. Katharina Fabricius, Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

Dr. Katharina Fabricius, Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

“In previous studies at these seeps we looked at the response of other organisms, such as corals – we found similar if less dramatic results – many coral species were unable to grow in these increasingly acidic conditions,” says Dr. Katharina Fabricius, a co-author of the present study.

“In the grand scheme of things, the small and simple nature of forams might make them seem fairly unimportant compared to say, corals,” Dr. Fabricius continued.

“However, foram shells account for up to 40% of the composition of some cays and sandy sea beds of coral reefs – and these habitats are home to a significant number of coral reef species such as seabirds and turtles.

“Of course the long-term implications of any disappearance of forams from the reef are not certain and will require further investigation, but these findings do add to concerns regarding the health resilience of coral reefs if ocean acidification progresses as predicted under current CO2 emission scenarios.


From materials released by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, AIMS.

The paper “High risk of extinction of benthic foraminifera in this century due to ocean acidification” by S. Uthicke, P. Momigliano and K. E. Fabricius appears in the Nature Publishing journal Scientific Reports. (

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June 10, 2013 - 9:44 AM No Comments

New Coral Magazine Article

Can unusual suspects reform the aquarium livestock trade?

09 May, 2013

CORAL Senior Editor Ret Talbot, lead author of THE BANGGAI CARDINALFISH, coming soon from the Banggai Rescue Project.

CORAL Senior Editor Ret Talbot, lead author of THE BANGGAI CARDINALFISH, coming soon from the Banggai Rescue Project.

By Ret Talbot

Excerpt from CORAL, May/June 2013

I was having a conversation last night with a person who knows his way around the marine aquarium livestock trade and hobby. We were discussing the future of both trade and hobby in light of the increasing number of potential restrictions to keeping fishes and other marine animals. Any of these—the current NOAA proposal to list 66 species of coral under the Endangered Species Act or the Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act, recently reintroduced in the U.S. Congress, for example—could end the aquarium trade as we know it.

So could recent, well-funded efforts by, amongst others, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Defenders of Wildlife. I suppose the stunned outrage and anger with which some aquarists have responded to these threats—real and perceived—on social media and in online forums is understandable, but should we really be stunned or outraged?


Collection live aquarium fishes with cyanide, a practice still rampant in the Philippines and Indonesia, according to many observers. Image by Lynn Funkhauser, from The Conscientious Marine Aquarist.

While there are plenty of solid arguments against many of the anti-trade initiatives that seem to keep popping up like Xenia in a reef tank, the fact of the matter is that aquarists may well be better served by focusing our efforts inward on the aquarium livestock trade itself.


Stunned or dead or dying reef fishes after exposure to cyanide. Image by Lynn Funkhauser, from The Conscientious Marine Aquarist.

After all, the trade has made itself a viable target for anti-trade activists. Let us not forget recent import data shows the aquarium trade still depends primarily on countries where destructive and illegal fishing techniques are the norm rather than the exception (think cyanide use in Indonesia and the Philippines). Let us not forget that smuggling of species remains commonplace (think illegal wild Banggai Cardinalfish exported from Indonesia or Clipperton Angelfish coming into California). Let us not forget that carelessness and ignorance have led to invasive species introductions that have had significant ecosystem impacts (think Volitans Lionfish in the Caribbean and Caulerpa introductions in Europe and the U.S.).

Many important voices have advocated for trade reform over the past two decades, and many positive steps have been taken in the right direction. Nonetheless, none of these efforts have resulted in the type of systemic change required to remove—or at least reduce in size—the bullseye from the back of the aquarium trade. Why is this? Does the trade lack the will? The resources? The imagination? The incentive? Whatever the reason, as my colleague with whom I was having this conversation pointed out, “The same approaches from the same people haven’t worked in 20 years.”

Maybe it’s time to look to some unusual suspects as the drivers of change.

Game Changers?

An important paper was published about a year ago in the journal Zoo Biology that suggests a new group of players may be the ones to effect real change in the aquarium trade. Titled “Opportunities for Public Aquariums to Increase the Sustainability of the Aquatic Animal Trade” (Tlusty et al., 2012), the paper contains an intrinsic premise: the aquatic animal trade is currently deficient when it comes to sustainability.

More important, however, the paper points out that it doesn’t have to be, and public aquariums have an opportunity to play an important leadership role in transforming the trade from a threat to a positive force for aquatic conservation. While there are other entities that also have the opportunity to play a significant role in reforming trade, I’d like to take a moment here to explore the potential role of public aquariums.

Aquatic tunnel at the Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta: Can public aquariums, using some of the same sources that supply animals to the marine aquarium hobby, help lead the way toward a more sustainable livestock trade? Image: Shutterstock.

Aquatic tunnel at the Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta: Can public aquariums, using some of the same sources that supply animals to the marine aquarium hobby, help lead the way toward a more sustainable livestock trade? Image: Sean Pavone Photo/Shutterstock.

Public aquariums have always had an uneasy relationship with the aquarium hobby. While many curators at public aquariums are home aquarists themselves—and although many of the researchers on staff will credit their passion for all things aquatic to keeping a fish tank as a kid—the overall institutional sentiment has too often been “it’s probably best if you leave it to the professionals.” After all, the aquarium hobby and the trade that supplies it with animals have been responsible for all manner of all-too-public mishaps and missteps that make the institutions—the professionals—want to distance themselves from the “hobbyists.” Gone, some say, are the glory days of late-nineteenth-century amateur scientists seriously engaged with professional scientists in the parlors and conservatories of Victorian homes.

As the Zoo Biology paper shows, public aquariums, however, cannot quite so easily distance themselves from home aquarists and the aquarium trade that supplies both with live animals. Public aquariums have a complex relationship with home aquarists and the livestock trade whether they want to acknowledge it or not. The reality is that aquarists visit public aquariums in significant numbers, and visitors to public aquariums are more likely to begin keeping fishes and other aquatic organisms at home than the general public. Put another way, the authors of the paper present data showing public aquariums make new home aquarists. In addition, public aquariums often rely on the same trade networks of collectors and importers as do home aquarists. While some public aquariums mount their own collecting expeditions, almost all rely to a greater or lesser extent on the same importers who supply the animals in our home aquariums.

The necessary conclusion of this analysis is that, if the aquarium trade is deficient when it comes to sustainability, then public aquariums are complicit in that deficiency. To be fair, this complicity is offset at the best public aquariums through messaging about conservation and educational initiatives, but the fundamental truth remains that as long as the aquarium trade exists, public aquariums, either directly or indirectly, will play a significant role in supporting that trade by creating new home aquarists, encouraging existing aquarists, and directly acquiring animals through established trade networks. It follows that public aquariums, given this overlap with the aquarium trade, should increasingly be incentivized to take an active role in effecting trade reform, and this should be very good news for the home aquarist.

Not Reinventing the Wheel

Public aquariums, unlike many of the people and organizations that have attempted trade reform over the past two decades, have resources and expertise giving them a very good chance of actually effecting positive systemic change. Unlike the “same approaches from the same people,” public aquariums are in a unique position to improve the sustainability ethos in the trade.

Take, for example, the role public aquariums have adopted when it comes to sustainable seafood (and let’s recall that the seafood trade didn’t make a move until that trade was threatened). In a little over a decade, some public aquariums (such as Monterey Bay Aquarium and New England Aquarium) have, in essence, become non-governmental environmental organizations that have played a leading role in promoting sustainable fisheries and environmental stewardship. They have provided invaluable technical knowledge to the seafood industry through their own research initiatives. They have launched educational initiatives within their institutions that have put the topic of sustainable seafood on the front page and above the fold, and they have taken that message to the general public through a bevy of outreach programs.

What if public aquariums did the same for the aquarium trade? As the Zoo Biology paper points out, “…given that public aquariums exist to exhibit aquatic organisms for educational purposes, it is ironic that fish species destined for the plate currently have more sustainability efforts directed at them than do live fishes kept by private aquarists and public aquariums.” Is it too much to argue that the seafood industry’s past could be the aquarium trade’s future?

There are many other strengths beyond public aquariums’ engagement in sustainable seafood that could easily be applied to promoting a sustainable marine aquarium trade. Public aquariums, for example, are already educational leaders and have become trusted sources for important conservation messaging on a whole host of environmental concerns from global climate change to conservation of habitat. Think of the ways public aquariums could leverage this educational strength toward developing and teaching best practices for the aquarium trade and informing the public about the risks and benefits associated with aquarium keeping. Through already established social pathways, public aquariums are in a unique position to help educate aquarists about sustainable options for purchasing fishes and other aquatic organisms, and they can be instrumental in creating market-based initiatives linking sustainable aquarium fisheries to retail outlets.


Despite government regulations, illegal poaching and uninspected exports of the Banggai Cardinalfish from Indonesia place severe pressures on a species listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Image by Matthew Wittenrich for the Banggai Rescue Project.

As respected leaders in sustainability and conservation, public aquariums can accomplish a lot simply by actively supporting sustainable (or, in some cases, withdrawing support from unsustainable) initiatives in the trade. Whether these are specific fisheries, trade routes, wholesalers, or retailers, the support of public aquariums can give credence and bring attention to those elements of the trade that are “doing it right.” Conversely, as trusted thought leaders, public aquariums can marginalize those elements of the trade that are not achieving or at least moving toward sustainability. Likewise, staff researchers at public aquariums are in a unique position to provide much-needed impartial oversight and data analysis of the trade, which may lead to important public-private partnerships including, but not limited to, serving in an advisory capacity to the trade and participating in multi-stakeholder processes toward developing best practices.

Of course there are many other areas in which public aquariums can engage the trade in an effort to promote sustainability. Perhaps the most public of these has been the role public aquariums have played in valuable research that can have a direct impact on the trade. For example, through the well-known Rising Tide Initiative and similar programs rearing fishes from eggs collected at public aquariums, public aquariums are playing an active role in closing the life cycle on the captive culture of more species of marine fishes. Increasing the number of captive-bred fishes available to home aquarists—especially beginning aquarists—is a critical effort when it comes to sustainability.  This is, however, a double-edged sword, as too often captive-bred animals are held up as the gold standard of a sustainable aquarium trade. The much more complex story—and one public aquariums are well positioned to tell—is that continuing to support sustainable wild fisheries in addition to increasing captive breeding can provide invaluable economic incentive to conserve aquatic ecosystems.

Is it a mandate for public aquariums to reform an aquarium trade that is viewed by many as a threat to aquatic conservation? Of course not, but as the Zoo Biology paper makes clear, public aquariums do have an opportunity here, and engaging in that opportunity does make good sense from an economic and environmental standpoint. While it may not be public aquariums’ responsibility to reform the trade, it should be acknowledged that their failure to act would perpetuate the status quo and potentially even allow the situation to become worse. Conversely, an approach similar to that which aquariums took with seafood a decade ago has the power to effect real change and empower a consumer-driven conservation initiative that will benefit species, habitat, and people.

Sea Change

Kelp Forest exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Image: Sky Collins/Shutterstock.

Kelp Forest exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Image: Sky Collins/Shutterstock.

As my colleague remarked last night, “The same approaches from the same people haven’t worked in 20 years.” What has worked, however, are anti-trade activists’ campaigns to end the marine aquarium trade (consider the mounting efforts to ban livestock collection in Hawaii). Isn’t it time aquarists stopped adopting the victim mentality in the face of these threats to the aquarium hobby? Isn’t it time aquarists supported real and substantive reform?

Before criticizing those who are criticizing the trade, aquarists would be wise to do some introspection and decide on which side of history they want the trade to fall. Will the aquarium trade and hobby be viewed as a force for good? Will aquarists be seen as standing in the trenches on the front line of ocean conservation? Or will the aquarium trade be seen as little more than wildlife trafficking with a “get it while you can” mentality?

As someone who has covered sustainability issues in the aquarium trade for several years now, I believe the necessary trade reform is going to be driven by some new players—entities that have the incentive, resources, and imagination to achieve what others have been unable or unwilling to achieve. As discussed above, public aquariums and, by extension, the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) will play a leading role in positive reform, but so will others.

Home aquarists and many in the trade have not traditionally embraced many of these “new” players. In fact, some would be hard pressed to even identify them as players, but their efforts and engagement in the issues that will make or break the aquarium trade have already proven they are the ones with the incentive, the resources, and the will to make a change. Expect, along with public aquariums, to see the Petcos and Disneys and Sea Worlds of the world define the agenda in the coming months. Expect the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) to engage on behalf of, and in conjunction with, these entities. Aquarists and individuals involved with the trade have a choice here—will the likes of public aquariums, Petco, Disney, and Sea World be embraced or shunned? Will aquarists become fractured and segmented over petty arguments about who really knows best and what the best path forward ought to be, or will aquarists support these emerging thought leaders and enter into a constructive dialogue with them? Will those in the trade expand their relationships with these players and actively collaborate to increase the sustainability of the trade, or will they insist on a business-as-usual approach that will only push the trade closer to the abyss?

The marine aquarium hobby and livestock trade is at a crossroads. It finds itself at the intersection of outdated models and new approaches, resistance to change and openness to new possibilities. Society is becoming “greener,” and while some of that is no doubt little more than greenwashing, there are real steps being taken toward a more sustainable future.

A growing number of consumers are not only familiar with sustainability—they are now demanding it. Corporate responsibility initiatives, often born of enlightened self-interest, are on the rise. The aquarium trade can and should be part of this. What if, for example, we could hold the aquarium livestock trade accountable by walking into the local fish store and knowing which fishes were collected with cyanide in the same way DNA testing can insure accountability for the seafood industry?

The aquarium industry is going to change; the only question that remains is who will be responsible for that change. Will it be a change from within, driven by those of us who understand the trade, or will it come from anti-trade activists and Draconian measures levied by those who know little about the real impacts and educational rewards of keeping an aquarium? It’s not difficult to imagine that we are on the brink of an important sea change, and I, for one, embrace this new direction.


Tlusty, M.F., A.L. Rhyne, L. Kaufman, M. Hutchins, G.M. Reid, C, Andrews, P. Boyle, J. Hemdal, F. McGilvray, and S. Dowd. 2013. Opportunities for public aquariums to increase the sustainability of the aquatic animal trade. Zoo Biol 32 (1): 1–12. doi: 10.1002/zoo.21019. Epub 2012 May 1.

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May 13, 2013 - 9:25 AM No Comments

Wild Blue Wilderness Found

Wild Blue Wilderness Found

25 Apr, 2013

Swarms of tangs, dominated by Powder Blue Surgeonfish, Acanthurus leucosternon.

Swarms of tangs, dominated by Powder Blue Surgeonfish, Acanthurus leucosternon.

Scientists find advantages of bigger marine protected areas

Images by Tim R. McClanahan, Wildlife Conservation Society

In a landmark survey of the Chagos Archipelago, due south of the Maldives in the central Indian Ocean, marine scientists found robust coral cover, higher-than-expected numbers and a huge array of species of fishes. The area was declared a no-take zone just a few years ago.

The findings are prompting leading international marine scientists to call for the protection of more, large marine wilderness areas in a bid to shield the world’s dwindling stocks of fish from destruction.

Working in the world’s largest unfished marine reserve, the remote Chagos Archipelago in the central Indian Ocean, scientists from Australia and the US have shown there is a dramatic difference in the numbers, size and variety of fish compared with smaller marine parks.

Healthy, heavy coral cover was found, despite a serious bleaching event in 1998 in the central Indian Ocean.

Healthy, heavy coral cover was found, despite a serious bleaching event in 1998 in the central Indian Ocean.

Their findings in two new reports provide the first clear evidence that large-scale marine wilderness reserves are may be better for conserving fish than the far more common, small marine protected areas (MPAs) that many governments and fishing communities are presently implementing.

“The bottom line is that we found six times more fish in the Chagos ‘no take’ area than we did in even the best-managed Marine Reserves elsewhere in the Indian Ocean,” said lead author of the reports, Dr. Nick Graham of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

Dr. Nick Graham

Dr. Nick Graham

“There was also a dramatic difference in types of species that dominate with a far richer variety of predatory and large-bodied fish species with big home ranges in the Chagos,” said his colleague, Dr. Tim McClanahan, of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Coral cover in the Chagos area was almost complete, having recovered rapidly from a major bleaching episode, in 1998.

The Chagos Archipelago, also known as the British Indian Ocean Territory, and its entire 640,000 square kilometre area was designated a no-take zone in April 2010, making it the largest such marine reserve in the world. It is in the central Indian Ocean due south of the Maldives.

“In recent times there have been bold moves by nations such as Britain, Australia and the United States to set aside much larger areas of open ocean in an effort to try to conserve fish stocks that appear to be dwindling all around the planet,” Dr Graham said.

“What wasn’t clearly known before now was whether there is a significant difference in conservation impact of large remote unfished reserves of thousands of square kilometers, as opposed to the much smaller ones of tens of square kilometers that are typical of populated coastlines. Well, now we know the answer.”

Heavily targeted by fishermen in other areas, parrotfish numbers in the park are reportedly very strong.

Heavily targeted by fishermen in other areas, parrotfish numbers in the park are reportedly very strong.

The researchers say it is important to have large areas of oceans protected from human impacts, not only to preserve fish stocks and protect vulnerable marine species – but also as an undisturbed baseline for understanding the changes that human population pressures and climate change are bringing to the oceans as a whole.

“There seems little doubt that formal legislative protection of some of the world’s last remaining marine ‘wilderness’ locations, such as the Chagos protected area, is a critical step to maintaining some near-pristine legacy areas in the oceans,” they say.

The researchers acknowledge that marine reserves closer to centres of human population require different kinds of management and need to be smaller, to ensure that people can still draw their livelihoods and food from the sea – and these smaller marine reserves also provide important conservation gains.

As world fish stocks decline, large remote wilderness reserves require careful protection against plundering by illegal and ‘pirate’ fishing concerns.

Dr. Tim McClanahan

Dr. Tim McClanahan

“Clearly marine wilderness does promote a unique ecological community, which smaller no-take areas fail to attain, and formal legislation is therefore critical to protect these last marine wilderness areas,” the scientists conclude.

Their findings and comments are in a new scientific article “The last call for marine wilderness?” by Nick Graham and Tim McClanahan in the journal Bioscience, and a chapter by Nick Graham, Morgan Pratchett, Tim McClanahan and Shaun Wilson in a forthcoming book, Coral Reefs of the United Kingdom Overseas Territories (Springer 2013).

Credits: From materials released by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Issued: April 15, 2013.  Images Copyright © 2013 by Tim McClanahan

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April 27, 2013 - 10:16 AM No Comments

Earth day Post: Corals As the First Casualty in Climate Change

Earth Day Post: Corals As the First Casualty in Climate Change

25 Apr, 2013

Starfish diversity. Image copyright © Tim McClanahan.

Starfish diversity. Image copyright © Tim McClanahan.

Helping Coral Ecosystems Survive a Changing Climate

By Dr. Tim McClanahan,
Post by the Wildlife Conservation Society on National Geographic

As we mark Earth Day this year with a recognition of “the face of climate change,” it is clear that the greatest threat to coral reef ecosystems is rising sea temperatures.

With corals across the globe bleaching due to advancing ocean temperatures, many of the world’s coral reef experts believe these centers of marine biodiversity may become the first casualty of climate change. But while the news on corals has been largely grim, it is not beyond hope.

First, the bad news. In the past 20 years, Caribbean corals have been smothered by algae, while bleaching events in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Oceans have damaged huge swaths of previously healthy reef systems. A recent model published in Nature Climate Change predicts that 70 percent of corals are expected to undergo long-term degradation by 2030.

Yet these models represent an incomplete understanding of temperature-coral survival dynamics.

The notion that all is lost is misguided, and risks our resignation in confronting this crisis. Such a doomsday perspective ignores the resilience of coral reefs, our current incomplete understanding of their stress dynamics, and the ability of many of these systems to adapt to changing conditions.

Read the full post on National

April 26, 2013 - 10:34 AM No Comments

Worth the read and to act whilst we can….

Endangered Species Listings Could End Trade in Stony Corals
URGENT Call for Concerned Aquarists to Write Objections

Will U.S. Fish & Wildlife inspectors be able to ID incoming stony corals?
Photo Credit: Scott W. Michael/Aquarium Corals
(Unidentified Acropora, Indonesia.)

PIJAC, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, issued a call to action on April 3rd, 2013, for everyone involved in the aquarium industry and hobby to submit public commentary in response to the NOAA Proposal to list 66 CORAL Species on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as we first reported late November, 2012.

You have less than 48 hours remaining to submit your public comment (electronic submissions are closed after 11:59 PM EDT, April 5th, 2013). Mail submissions must be postmarked April 6th.

Public commentary is a fundamental core part of the ESA listing process, so don’t think what you say won’t make a difference – it certainly could.

We are providing expanded commentary on the NOAA ESA Coral Petition issue in another article today; if you’re unfamiliar we encourage you to become invested in the implications this proposal has for you as an aquarist.

For those already familiar with the issue and simply looking for instructions, you can view the full PIJAC press release with instructions.  We’ve also excerpted a portion here.

Recommended Action:

PIJAC urges people involved with the ornamental marine trade and hobby to not only submit their personal comments, but also forward this PetAlert to others involved with marine organisms, marine products, and marine retailers. COMMENTS MUST BE SUBMITTED BY APRIL 6, 2013. See below for instructions on how and where to submit your comments.

Comments should include a brief description of your involvement with coral activities. Your comments should be in your own words – do not simply copy the talking points.

Comments should be addressed to:

Regulatory Branch Chief
Protected Resources Division
National Marine Fisheries Service
Pacific Islands Regional Office
1601 Kapiolani Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96814
Attn: 82 Coral Species Proposed Listing


Assistant Regional Administrator,
Protected Resources,
National Marine Fisheries Service,
Southeast Regional Office,
263 13th Avenue South,
Saint Petersburg, FL 33701,
Attn: 82 coral species proposed listing

Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments NO LATER THAN APRIL 5 via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal To submit comments via the e-Rulemaking Portal, first click the “submit a comment” icon, then enter NOAA-NMFS-2010-0036 in the keyword search. Locate the document you wish to comment on from the resulting list and click on the “Submit a Comment” icon on the right of that line. Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only. E-submissions must be filed by 11:59 pm EDT on April 5 when the system shuts down. If you encounter problems filing electronically FAX and mail a copy.

Mail: Submit written comments to Regulatory Branch Chief, Protected Resources Division, National Marine Fisheries Service, Pacific Islands Regional Office, 1601 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 1110, Honolulu, HI 96814; or Assistant Regional Administrator, Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Regional Office, 263 13th Avenue South, Saint Petersburg, FL 33701, Attn: 82 coral species proposed listing. Must be postmarked no later than April 6 and to be safe send April 5.

Fax: 808-973-2941; Attn: Protected Resources Regulatory Branch Chief; or 727-824-5309; Attn: Protected Resources Assistant Regional Administrator.
Postal or Fax Submissions: If responding by mail, make sure the envelope is postmarked/date stamped on or before April 6. PIJAC recommends that you also FAX a copy to NMFS.

For any questions about this proposal and responding to it, contact PIJAC at or Marshall Meyers at

Download or view the full PIJAC release

What’s Being Proposed and What’s An Aquarist to Do?

Acropora verweyi, one of 66 stony coral species proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Opinion By Matt Pedersen,
Aquaculturist & CORAL Magazine Senior Editor

“Don’t overlook the at-home implications of an ESA listing.  Being listed as an endangered species under the ESA makes it illegal to own or propagate the species under the “Take Prohibition”—”Endangered species, their parts, or any products made from them may not be imported, exported, possessed, or sold” according to the Earth Justice Citizen’s Guide to the ESA.

MattPedersen“It is unclear that there would be any legal way to provide exceptions or grandfather in past legal ownership or propagation.  Could your next “20,000 Leagues Lokani” frag be your last, or worse, do you have to grind your entire Candy Cane Coral colony into a pulp or risk jail time or fines for owning it, despite having purchased it legally years prior?

“Should these listings go into effect, will the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have a “Reefer’s Amnesty Day” where we can all turn in our then contraband livestock?

“Pragmatically, the aquarium-industry implications of this proposal are such that we could quite literally all return to keeping fish-only marine aquariums.  That is, we’ll be fine with fish until we have to deal with any successful efforts by the Center for Biological Diversity to list Amphiprion percula as an endangered species under the ESA (at which point am I required by law to flush the 200 baby Percula Clownfish I spawned and reared in my basement or risk civil and criminal penalties for owning a newly-dubbed “endangered species”?).”  Read the full commentary…

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April 9, 2013 - 5:45 PM No Comments

Cites moves to protect Sharks and Rays

CITES Moves to Protect Sharks & Rays

26 Mar, 2013

Manta Ray, Manta birostris, now protected by CITES Listing. Photo Credit: Guy Stevens

BANGKOK   Five species of oceanic sharks along with two species of manta rays will now be subject to international trade regulation under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, a move that some shark advocates hope could save these threatened species from total collapse.

The required two-thirds of the 177 CITES member governments voted to protect these animals, the Oceanic Whitetip and Porbeagle Sharks, three species of hammerhead sharks, and two species of manta rays‚ marking an increase in the number of sharks protected by CITES from three to eight species. The Freshwater Sawfish, Pristis microdon, or “Sawtooth Shark,” is actually the member of a small family of rays and is found in fresh water and brackish waters in the Indo-Pacific and Australia.

The presence of healthy shark populations has been found to be a key bioindicator of the health reef ecosystems, including corals, herbivorous fishes, and food webs.

Scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini) are listed as globally Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Photo Credit: Shawn Heinrichs for the Pew Environment Group

CITES has been the subject of intense criticism for its unwillingness to protect other large oceanic species, such as the Bluefin Tuna, that are heavily exploited for food fisheries.

“Today was the most significant day for the ocean in the 40-year history of CITES,” said Susan Lieberman, director of international environment policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts who have expended vigorous efforts to establish protections for these species.

“This is a major win for some of the world’s most-threatened shark species, with action now required to control the international trade in their fins. This victory indicates that the global community will collaborate to address the plight of some of the most highly vulnerable sharks and manta ray species.”

Scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini) are listed as globally Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Photo Credit: Shawn Heinrichs for the Pew Environment Group

Lieberman added that the gridlock created by those who oppose such controls has been broken. Sharks are primarily traded to Asia for use in shark fin soup. Manta rays are caught and killed for their gill rakers‚ the part used to filter their food from the water, to make a purported Asian health tonic.

“The tide is now turning for shark conservation‚ with governments listening to the science and acting in the interest of species conservation and sustainability,” said Elizabeth Wilson, manager of Pew’s global shark conservation campaign. “With these new protections, Oceanic Whitetip, Porbeagle, and Hammerhead sharks will have the chance to recover and once again fulfill their role as top predators in the marine ecosystem.”

Oceanic Whitetip Shark (Carcharhinus longimanus). Photo Credit: Jim Abernathy

Pew added that this commitment by the global community to shark conservation needs to be fully implemented and enforced, and it should be coupled with national and regional efforts to ensure a sustainable future for these and other top oceanic predators, all of which are critical for the health of the wider marine ecosystem.

Fisheries biologist Dr. Daniel Pauly and others have documented the fact that an estimated 90 percent of the world’s large marine predatory species (sharks, tuna, swordfish) have been depleted, and fishing efforts are being focused on ever-smaller forage fishes, such as herring, anchovies, and sardines.

“We are eating bait and moving on to jellyfish and plankton,” says Pauly, of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Largetooth or Freshwater Sawfish (Pristis microdon), Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt am Main. Image: EvaK/Wiki

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 143 shark species are threatened with extinction, but few management measures exist to protect them.


Many of these fins come from pelagic shark species. According to the IUCN, over 50 percent of pelagic sharks are Threatened or Near Threatened with extinction. Photo: Shawn Heinrichs for the Pew Environment Group

From materials released March 12, 2013 by the Pew Charitable Trusts Environmental Initiatives.

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April 1, 2013 - 8:50 AM No Comments

Mexican Crayfish for Nano Aquariums - Amazonas Magazine

A Mexican Crayfish for Nano Aquariums

15 Mar, 2013

Male Dwarf Orange Crayfish, Cambarellus patzcuarensis “Orange,” an ideal invertebrate for a nano freshwater aquarium.

Lobster-like Mexican Native with Good Manners for a Nano Aquarium

By Rachel O’Leary

Excerpt from AMAZONAS Magazine, May/June 2013

The Dwarf Orange Crayfish, Cambarellus patzcuarensis “Orange,” is a petite and colorful crustacean that is not as well known to freshwater aquarists as it should be, but that makes a sassy and active addition to a nano aquarium. While some crayfish and “mini lobsters” can be destructive, this species has proved safe with plants, fishes, and other invertebrates.

In its wild form, it originates in Lake Patzcuaro, about 38 miles southwest of Morelia in Central Mexico. It is thought that the first orange offspring originated from a pair of hobbyists from the Netherlands in the late 1990s. They started becoming available in the United States several years later, and are casually referred to as the CPO. ‘Cambarellus” is a diminutive species, reaching around 1.25” (3 cm) at the largest, and averaging about 1” (2.5 cm).

Dwarf Orange Crayfish in palm of the author’s hand.

Its native water is relatively cool, averaging about 72 degrees, and is moderately hard. These crayfish do not require a heater, but because of their stature, any intake on a power filter should be covered with a prefilter sponge. CPO have an average lifespan of two years, with warmer temperatures accelerating their growth and breeding. Adult crayfish molt about twice a year, and young crayfish generally will molt every 3-4 weeks, until they hit maturity, at about .7”.

They are fairly easy to breed, the male pinning the female to the substrate and then placing his sperm packets near her seminal receptacle. In a matter of days to weeks, she will molt and then produce from 20 to 50 eggs, which she attaches to her pleopod and covers with a protective mucus. The female carries the babies, even after hatching, until they are ready to venture out on their own. The adults do not predate on healthy young, so the survival rate is high.

Ventral side of male showing sex organs.

Ventral side of female showing detail of her seminal receptacle.

Feeding is very straightforward, with the crayfish readily taking most prepared or gelatinized foods. Specialized feeding is not required for the young, though as with all invertebrates, they are sensitive to water quality so care should be taken to not overfeed. They do well with a varied diet with both meaty (live or frozen worms and pellets designed for bottom feeders) and herbivorous foods (vegetables or algae-based foods), and appreciate having leaf litter for grazing. To keep colors bright, include occasional feedings of color-enhancing foods containing natural carotenoid pigments such as the astaxanthene found in Cyclop-Eeze.

“Berried” female carrying ripening eggs under her abdomen. Note developing dark eyespots.

While peaceful to other inhabitants, these crayfish can threaten each other especially after molting, so ample hiding places or cover should be provided utilizing plants, small stacked driftwood, or caves of clay or PVC. A pair can easily live in a five gallon (20-L) tank, or can be part of a larger, peaceful community of small fish and invertebrates.

About the Author

Rachel O’Leary lives in York, Pennsylvania and operates Invertebrates by Msjinkzd, specializing in hard-to-find nano invertebrates, fishes, and plants.

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March 22, 2013 - 7:56 AM No Comments

World Class Aquascaping - Amazonas Magazine Article

AGA Aquascape Winners 2012

15 Feb, 2013

CRIMSON TIDE: A 48-gallon (182-L) tank created by Sim Kian Hong. (Detail. Full aquascape shown below.)

Amazing Underwater Gardens
By Karen Randall

Excerpt from AMAZONAS Magazine, March/April 2013

The Aquatic Gardeners Association Aquascaping Contest is the world’s oldest contest of its kind. This was our 13th year, and I have been privileged to judge both this contest and the Aqua Design Amano IAPLC from the inception. Over the last 13 years we have seen a tremendous growth of interest in aquatic gardening both in the U.S. and worldwide. One of the nice things about our AGA contest is that anyone can go onto our website,, and see every tank ever entered, including all the details on the tanks and the judges’ comments.

In the United States we come from a long, organized hobby tradition of fish keepers/breeders. It is often easier to teach a new hobbyist how to set up and manage a planted aquarium than it is to “unteach” much of what experienced fishkeepers take as gospel. (Fishrooms run on powerful air compressors just don’t work for planted aquaria!) In North America, most of us live in areas with ready access to the outdoors—yards and gardens to feed our “natural souls.” In many Asian cities, however, most people live in small apartments with no outdoor space.

I suspect it is very tempting to have a little slice of nature in the apartment.

As to why we don’t see more North American winners in the major aquascaping contests, I think fewer Americans and Canadians are willing to constantly ’scape, tear down, and re-scape a tank just for the sake of entering contests. Personally, I value long-term aquascapes that are beautiful for a number of years. But these tanks with longevity are not the ones that typically garner the highest honors in aquascaping contests. Remember, also, how many tanks are entered in these contests. A tank can be very, very good and still not win a prize. Many of these tanks would be astoundingly beautiful if seen by themselves in the owners’ homes. I regularly remind people: Aquascape for yourself. You are the person who needs to live with the tank!

I am very excited about the growth of interest and knowledge I see in the world of aquatic gardening. It is easier than ever to get the equipment and plants you need and the information to do it right. There is help in stores, books, on the Internet, and from members of local aquarium clubs. There are also small, local aquatic gardening clubs springing up everywhere. So if you don’t belong to one yet, find one and join it—and enter an aquascaping contest!
—Karen Randall

“Rainforest”  Larry Lampert Most Innovative Award / Aquatic Garden, 200–320-L category  Zhang Jian Feng Macau, China

©2012 Zhang Jian Feng


Larry Lampert Most Innovative Award / Aquatic Garden, 200–320-L category

Zhang Jian Feng
Macau, China

Aquascape Details:
Tank Size: 120 x 50 x 50 cm (47 x 20 x 20 in)
Volume: 210 L (56 gallons)
Lighting: 4 40-W
Plants: Riccardia chamaedryfolia, Marsilea quadrifolia Linn., Myriophyllum mattogrossense

Judges’ Comments:
Karen Randall: I absolutely love this tank…There’s nothing else to say!
Kris Weinhold: Incredible scene—a perfect picture out of the rainforest. You’ve taken the treescape, upped the ante, and produced a forestscape. Well done!
Bailin Shaw: Very well-made trees incorporated into an aquascape that has depth and balance. The river running through the aquascape is very nicely defined and the hatchetfish are an excellent choice for this aquascape—they appear to fly in the tank! Good job!

Click for additional views of “Rainforest” on the 2012 AGA Contest website.

"SPRING"  Aquatic Garden, Under 28-L category  Hong Te Syu Ji’an Township, Hualien County Taiwan, R.O.C.

©2012 Hong Te Syu


Aquatic Garden, Under 28-L category

Hong Te Syu
Ji’an Township, Hualien County
Taiwan, R.O.C.

Aquascape Details:
Tank Size: 36 x 22 x 26 cm (14 x 8.7 x 10 in)
Volume: 20 L (5 gallons)
Plants: Eleocharis sp., Hemianthus callitrichoides, Java Moss, Taxiphyllum barbieri. Treetops: unidentified, but possibly Christmas Moss, Vesicularia montagnei or the very similar Triangle Moss.

Judges’ Comments:
Karen Randall: I can’t quite decide whether I like this tank or not. I am thinking it must be
a maintenance nightmare with all those vertically placed sticks!
Kris Weinhold: Very serene forestscape, particularly given that this is just a 5-gallon aquarium. The mossy treetops might be slightly too thick, but overall it’s very nicely executed.
Luis Navarro: Congratulations, your layout is great.
Bailin Shaw: Stunning tank with excellent use of rocks, roots, and plants to create depth.
The stick that lies across the middle of the tank is not needed and detracts from the
overall effect. Very well done!

Click for additional views of “Spring” on the 2012 AGA Contenst Website

“On the Edge of the World”  Aquatic Garden, 60–120-L category  Prociuk Mikola Kalush Iwano-Frankiwsk, Ukraine

©2012 Prociuk Mikola

“On the Edge of the World”

Aquatic Garden, 60–120-L category

Prociuk Mikola
Kalush Iwano-Frankiwsk, Ukraine
Website: Aquafanat,

Aquascape Details:
Tank Size: 60 x 40 x 30 cm (24 x 16 x 12 in)
Volume: 72 L (19 gallons)
Background: White film
Lighting: SunSun HDD600
Filtration: SunSun HBL-701 II
Plants: Aegagropila linnaei, Eleocharis “parvula”
Fishes/animals: Hemigrammus rhodostomus, Neocaridina sp. “Red Cherry”
Decorative materials: Substrate Hagen 1–2 mm and mountain stone

Judges’ Comments:
Karen Randall: The rockwork is very nice. While the Aegagropila is interesting, there is SO much of it that it makes things look rather flat. I’d like to see a LITTLE more variety in the plants.
Kris Weinhold: Very creative use of algal Aegragopila in an aquascape.
Bailin Shaw: The arrangement of your hardscape is expertly done and the use of the Aegagrophila is a great choice to soften the lines. Very nice!

Click for additional views of “On the Edge of the World” on the 2012 AGA Contest website.

“Crimson Tide”  Aquatic Garden120–200-L category  Sim Kian Hong Senai Johor, Malaysia

©2012 Sim Kian Hong

“Crimson Tide”

Aquatic Garden120–200-L category

Sim Kian Hong
Senai Johor, Malaysia
Website: Little Green Corner,

Aquascape Details:
Tank Size: 90 x 45 x 45 cm (35 x 18 x 18 in)
Volume: 182 L (48 gallons)
Background: Black cardboard, paper
Lighting: 6 T5HO 36-W, 10 hours per day
Filtration: Eheim 2217
Supplementation: EI with KNO3, Iron and Trace elements, twice a week with every water change.
Plants: Eleocharis acicularis, Eleocharis sp., Glossostigma elatinoides, Hemianthus callitrichoides, Ludwigia arcuata, Rotala sp. Goais, Taxiphyllum sp.
Fishes/animals: 50 Hyphessobrycon amandae, Caridina japonica, Otocinclus affinis
Decorative materials: ADA Amazonia 1 Aqua Soil, Seiryu stone

Judges’ Comments:
Karen Randall: I love the contrast of color and texture in this tank. Even the fishes are perfectly chosen. Nice job!
Kris Weinhold: While the Ludwigia arcuata is striking, it may overpower the rockwork surrounding it. The rock is nicely placed and the plants are perfectly manicured.
Bailin Shaw: Absolutely LOVE this tank and its use of the Ludwigia and Rotala to provide color and contrast to the rest of the aquascape. Your use of the Seiryu stones is expertly done! Great tank!

Click for additional views of “Crimson Tide” on the 2012 AGA Contest website.

“The Virgin Stream”  Aquatic Garden, Over 320-L category  Piotr Dymowski Warsaw Mazowieckie, Poland

©2012 Piotr Dymowski

“The Virgin Stream”

Aquatic Garden, Over 320-L category

Piotr Dymowski
Mazowieckie, Poland
Website: Design EliteAquarium,

Aquascape Details:
Tank Size: 120 x 60 x 50 cm (47 x 24 x 20 in)
Volume: 360 L (95 gallons)
Background: White wall
Lighting: 6 54-W T5s
Filtration: Eheim Filters
Fertilizers/supplements: Ferka Balance K, Ferka Balance N, Ferka Aquatilizer, Ferka Aquashade, Ferka Rosetta, Ferka Stemma, Ferka Aquabase
Plants: Anubias, Hydrocotyle sp. “Japan,” Rotala rotundifolia, Microsorum pteropus narrow, Taiwan Moss

Judges’ Comments:
Karen Randall: There is a lot to like about this tank…the roots, the rockwork, and most of the planting. I just can’t get past the bunches of moss on the tops of those heavy branches, though.
Kris Weinhold: The peaks in this aquascape are quite intriguing and immediately draw the eye. You’ve done a masterful job of trimming the Rotala and keeping the Hydrocotyle from taking over. Well done!
Luis Navarro: The way you blend the driftwood in with the rocks in this layout is really good; the use of moss is also remarkable. I really enjoy how balanced the whole layout is, from the plants to the fish. I get what you tried to accomplish here. Keep up the good work. Congratulations.

Click for additional views of “The Virgin Stream” on the 2012 AGA Contest website.

“Butterfly Life”  Paludarium category  Luidi Rafael de Souza Doim Ponta Grossa Paraná, Brasil

©2012 Luidi Rafael de Souza Doim

“Butterfly Life”

Paludarium category

Luidi Rafael de Souza Doim
Ponta Grossa
Paraná, Brasil

Judges’ Comments:
Karen Randall: Beautiful tank with good use of both hardscape and plants. I love that you’ve chosen the Tiger Barbs; these “common” fish are often overlooked by experienced aquarists, but they are just beautiful animals!
Kris Weinhold: Excellent wood work, and the moss growing on it looks fantastic!

Click for additional views of “Butterfly Life” on the 2012 AGA Contest website.

“Lake Petén Shallows”  Biotope Aquascape category  Lee Nuttall Wolverhampton West Midlands, United Kingdom

©2012 Lee Nuttall

“Lake Petén Shallows”

Biotope Aquascape category

Lee Nuttall
West Midlands,
United Kingdom
Website: The Central Scene,

Aquascape Details:
Tank Size: 244 x 120 x 60 cm (96 x 47 x 24 in)
Volume: 1,474 L (390 gallons)
Background: Modified Back-to-Nature
Lighting: 2 T8 freshwater lamps
Filtration: Biological filtration behind the background, powered by 2 maxijet pumps rated 1,700 LPH and 2,300 LPH
Plants: Ceratophyllum sp. Hornwort
Fishes: 5 Vieja melanura
Decorative materials: Large river stones and cobbles, sand with fine gravel mix, beech tree branches

Judges’ Comments:
Karen Randall: Not only is your tank faithful to the biotope, but it is a beautiful home for your spectacular fish as well. Great job!
Phil Edwards: You’ve created a lovely home for your large cichlids that makes me think of the rocky littoral zones of many lakes I’ve visited. The judicious use of Hornwort is well done. In this case less is definitely more. It adds a realistic touch of vegetation without overpowering the rocky theme.

Click for additional views of “Lake Petén Shallows” on the 2012 AGA Contest website.

Best of Show / Aquatic Garden, 28–60-L category  Leandro Artioli São Paulo, Brasil

©2012 Leandro Artioli

“Unknown Way”

Best of Show / Aquatic Garden, 28–60-L category

Leandro Artioli
São Paulo, Brasil
Website: Aquabase,

Aquascape Details:
Tank Size: 60 x 30 x 30 cm (24 x 12 x 12 in)
Volume: 54 L (14 gallons)
Background: None
Lighting: 6 T5 14-W fluorescent bulbs (84 W total)
Filtration: 2 Eheim canister 2213
Supplements: Full set ADA liquid fertilizer and substrate system
Plants: Fissiden fontanus, Nambei Moss, Hydrocotyle sibthorpioides (maritima), Rotala indica, R. sp “Nanjenshan,” R. rotundifolia, Hemianthus callitrichoides, Micranthemum glomeratus, Riccia fluitans, Anubia barteri “nana petite,” Limnophila “Vietnam,” Echinodorus tenellus “blood”
Fishes/animals: 20 Paracheirodon simulans
Decorative materials: Driftwood and rocks

Judges’ Comments:
Karen Randall: The rich tapestry you have created in this small tank is stunning. Fabulous job!
Kris Weinhold: Very nice ’scape! The Rotala rotundifolia is beautiful and adds just the right amount of color to the green mosses and delicate stems. The hardscape isn’t overpowering, but sticks out of the plants just enough to add intrigue. Very nicely done!
Bailin Shaw: Gorgeous tank and beautiful use of different species of Rotala. The hardscaping adds to this impressive tank. Well done!

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March 19, 2013 - 9:41 AM No Comments

In search of the Blue-Eyed Pleco - Amazonas Article

In Search of the Blue-Eyed Pleco

06 Mar, 2013

Blue-eyed Pleco, Panaque cochliodon, from Colombia’s Río Magdalena, near Cambao.

It was April 2011, and it had been over 20 years since my last visit to the Magdalena Valley in Colombia. This time, my objective was to discover why the export of the legendary Blue-Eyed Pleco, Panaque cochliodon, from this region came to a standstill in the mid-1990s. What could have caused this sudden change?

Text & images by Heiko Bleher

Excerpt from AMAZONAS, May/June 2013

For many years the Blue-Eyed Pleco, Panaque cochliodon, was sold incorrectly as Panaque suttoniin the aquarium hobby, and even called by this name in the scientific literature. The type locality of P. cochliodon is the Río Cauca in Colombia. Another species that purportedly has blue eyes isPanaque suttunorum from the Río Negro, Maracaibo basin in Venezuela. P. suttunorum has not so far turned up in the aquarium trade, while the opposite is true of P. cochliodon. I first imported both sexes of this fish with the intense blue eyes as long ago as the late 1960s. These catfishes were not very popular initially, but from the mid-1970s to around the mid-1990s it was virtually impossible to get enough of them to meet demand.

The high losses among imports were attributable to the difficulty of transporting the specimens, which were usually large. There were virtually no specimens smaller than 6 inches (15 cm) total length caught, let alone shipped from Bogota, Colombia, the only export location.

I traveled on several occasions to the collecting area. Every time this involved a hellish journey down to the middle of the Magdalena drainage along one of the most winding and dangerous roads in South America.

Colombia’s Río Magdalena flows through a gigantic valley.

The majority of Blue-Eyed Plecos were collected from Honda and Cambao. Drivers transported the fishes from the Magdalena Valley, just a few hundred meters above sea level, to an altitude of almost 9,843 feet (3,000 m) in Bogota. I repeatedly tried to educate the collectors and drivers and asked them to be careful, but this didn’t help much—most of the numerous exporters in Colombia shipped these beautiful fishes far too tightly packed and often still chilled.

You should know that an eternal spring, so to speak, rules in Bogota, and it is much too cold for all tropical fishes. The water temperature in the holding tanks of many exporters weren’t adequately monitored, and the fishes, usually packed in simple cardboard boxes or just lying in the vehicle in plastic bags, were subjected to continually decreasing temperatures throughout the long journey up through the mountains. There was no question of quarantine in the randomly heated aquariums in Bogota, let alone the prophylactic treatment that might have increased the fishes’ chances of survival. Normally they were packed and exported right away.

Travels in the Magdalena Valley

In Bogota I was greeted enthusiastically by my good friend Pedro Zea at Eldorado Airport, which has remained unchanged during the more than 40 years I have known it. Now, it is slated to be demolished. Pedro runs what is hands-down the best export station in Colombia, which he established almost four decades ago near the town of Villavicencio in the warm Amazon basin. All of his fishes are acclimated for a month there before being shipped out.

Pedro had reserved a car for me, and his brother-in-law, Antonio Salamanca Barrera, was to be my companion. Every week for 15 years, Antonio transported 500–600 Blue-Eyed Plecos from the Magdalena Valley to Bogota for Orinoco Aquarium, but that ended in the mid-1990s. Antonio and Pedro, and most other exporters and importers, were convinced that the Blue-Eyed Pleco had died out due to environmental destruction, so they were naturally very surprised that I had come to Colombia to look for it.

The road was as full of bends as ever and though it was somewhat improved, there was a corresponding increase in truck traffic. Many hours later we reached La Vega at an altitude of around 3,600 feet (1,100 m), a once-tiny village that has now grown into a veritable town. We then descended to 2,297 feet (700 m) and then climbed again to 5,249 feet (1,600 m), and it was evening before Honda, down in the Magdalena Valley, came into view. This town, too, has grown; it has now expanded to both sides of the eternally murky Magdalena, and the two parts are connected by an iron bridge. The old town has been very beautifully renovated, and we stayed in a nice little hotel there.

We caught Hypostomus hondae in the Río Magdalena near Cambao.


I wanted to seek out Antonio’s fisherman contact right away the next morning. We made our way through narrow alleys, inquired all over the place, and eventually found his house a long way outside of town. I don’t think he recognized me any more, but he knew Antonio, who had regularly purchased his fishes for 15 years. When I asked him about cuchas de ojo azul, he looked at me and said only that it would be easier to win the lottery than to find a cucha—there were none left and he had long since given up looking for them, since the “American millionaire had poisoned everything.”

When I heard that, I was more than a little surprised, because even Antonio knew nothing about it. The fisherman told us that a little over 12 years ago, an American was there visiting with his daughter. She was stung by a freshwater ray while swimming and fell into a coma. Her father thought he was going to lose his only child, and wanted to avenge her. He had experts develop a poison that would sink immediately in the water and kill the bottom-dwelling fishes—that is, the rays he hated. Tons of it were tipped into the upper course of the Magdalena and killed thousands of stingrays, as well as everything else that lived on the bottom, including the Blue-Eyed Plecos and seven or eight other loricariid species.

Local fishermen kept trying to catch cuchas de ojos azul for around two years, but without success. They gave up trying. In Cambao, further up the Magdalena, another fisherman, Jawel Gomes Perrera, and three others told me the same thing. The American had put the poison in therepresa of the Lago Prado and the Magdalena had been full of dead fishes for weeks.

A lighter variant

We spent two days in Cambao with Jawel, who nowadays catches only food fishes such asPseudoplatystomaAgeneiosusPimelodusHypostomusCyphocharax, and a Leporinus species. Nevertheless, he was prepared to accompany me in my search for cuchas de ojos azul. But we couldn’t find any Blue-Eyed Pleco. We didn’t find anything in the Rio Seco, either.

This Isorineloricaria species, very likely undescribed, was a spectacular catch. This monotypic genus had been known only from the west Andine rivers of Ecuador.

The story of the Blue-Eyed Pleco is really tragic, and once again demonstrates what Homo sapiensis prepared to do to destroy aquatic fauna. I also made searches in the upper Río Magdalena in the Departamento del Huila, but without success. However, I did find a population of the Blue-Eyed Pleco, albeit a lighter variant, in the Río Cauca in the vicinity of Tamalameque, before it empties into the Río Magdalena. This variant looks very similar to another blue-eyed species, Cochliodonsoniae (L 137), which I found in the middle Tapajós many years ago.

This form doesn’t have such a black body coloration as the form that formerly lived in the Magdalena. When I showed the owner of Stingray Aquarium my lighter-colored Blue-Eyed Plecos, he told me that the lighter form had also been brought back from the region of San Martin de Loba by his collectors.

Adult Panaque cochliodon from San Martin de Loba.

A few specimens of this lighter variant from Colombia have been offered for sale—at $250 U.S. each from Bogota—a serious price for serious catfish breeders only. The average aquarist will have to wait and hope.

Subscribe to AMAZONAS and read this article in its full printed form with additional images.


Burgess, W. 1989. An Atlas of Freshwater and Marine Catfishes. TFH Publications, Neptune City, NJ.

Ferraris Jr., C. 1991. Catfish in the Aquarium. Tetra Press, Morris Plains, NJ

March 18, 2013 - 11:14 AM No Comments

Stony Coral Fluorescence - Coral Magazine

Stony Coral Fluorescence as a Measure of Health

13 Mar, 2013

Branching Acropora displays vivid green fluorescing proteins when conditions are ideal. Loss of intensity can predict bleaching or growth retardation. Wild colony, Bali.

A new study by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego scientists has revealed that fluorescence, the dazzling but poorly understood glow produced by many corals, can be an effective tool for gauging their health. The researchers suggest that measuring the intensity of fluorescence in stony corals could be a non-invasive test to be used when assessing the effects of weather events that stress corals.

As described in the March 12 edition of Scientific Reports (a publication of the Nature Publishing Group), marine biologists Melissa Roth and Dimitri Deheyn describe groundbreaking research using fluorescence to test coral stress prompted from cold and heat exposure.

In experimental studies conducted at Scripps, Roth and Deheyn tested the common Indo-Pacific reef-building branching coral Acropora yongei, known in the aquarium trade as the Bali Green Slimer, under various temperatures. Test groups were subjected to 5-degree C water temperature changes (both warmer and cooler) conditions.

Representative Acropora yongei samples from different treatments and time points during temperature change experiment. Each sample includes an image under white light (left panel) and blue light (excitation 470 ± 40 nm and longpass emission filter ≥500 nm; right panel); the same coral sample from each treatment is shown through time. Scale bar represents 2 mm. Photo credit: Dimitri Deheyn and Peter Kragh.

Branching corals are susceptible to temperature stress and often one of the first to show signs of distress on a reef. Roth and Deheyn found, at the induction of both cold and heat stress, corals rapidly display a decline in fluorescence levels. If the corals are able to adapt to the new conditions, such as to the cold settings in the experiment, then the fluorescence returns to normal levels upon acclimation. While the corals recovered from cold stress, the heat-treated corals eventually bleached and remained so until the conclusion of the experiment.

Coral bleaching, the loss of microscopic symbiotic zooxanthellae that are critical for coral survival, is a primary threat to coral reefs and has been increasing in severity and scale due to climate change. In this study, the very onset of bleaching caused fluorescence to spike to levels that remained high until the end of the experiment. The researchers noted that the initial spike was caused by the loss of “shading” from the symbiotic algae.

Reef-building corals create an oasis of life and diversity in a sparse ocean. Because branching Acropora corals such as those pictured here in the Central Pacific are in peril from climate change, the whole ecosystem is in danger of collapse. (Credit: Melissa Roth)

Branching and table-top corals of the genus Acropora dominate coral reef ecosystems such as those pictured here from the Indo-Pacific. Branching corals are amongst the most sensitive to temperature change and often the first to bleach under stress. Photo credit: Melissa Roth “This is the first study to quantify fluorescence before, during, and after stress,” said Deheyn.“Through these results we have demonstrated that changes in coral fluorescence can be a good proxy for coral health.”

Deheyn said the new method improves upon current technologies for testing coral health, which include conducting molecular analyses in which coral must be collected from their habitat, as opposed to fluorescence that can be tested non-invasively directly in the field. Corals are known to produce fluorescence through green fluorescent proteins (GFPs), but little is known about the emitted light’s function or purpose.

Branching and table-top corals of the genus Acropora dominate coral reef ecosystems such as those pictured here from the Indo-Pacific. Branching corals are amongst the most sensitive to temperature change and often the first to bleach under stress. Photo credit: Melissa Roth

Scientists believe fluorescence could offer protection from damaging sunlight or be used as a biochemical defense generated during times of stress. “This study is novel because it follows the dynamics of both fluorescent protein levels and coral fluorescence during temperature stress, and shows how coral fluorescence can be utilized as an early indicator of coral stress” said Roth, a Scripps alumna who is now a postdoctoral scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC Berkeley.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research’s Natural Materials, Systems and Extremophiles program supported the research. Birch Aquarium at Scripps provided the corals and technical support for the experiments.


Widespread temperature stress has caused catastrophic coral bleaching events that have been devastating for coral reefs. Here, we evaluate whether coral fluorescence could be utilized as a noninvasive assessment for coral health. We conducted cold and heat stress treatments on the branching coral Acropora yongei, and found that green fluorescent protein (GFP) concentration and fluorescence decreased with declining coral health, prior to initiation of bleaching. Ultimately, cold-treated corals acclimated and GFP concentration and fluorescence recovered. In contrast, heat-treated corals eventually bleached but showed strong fluorescence despite reduced GFP concentration, likely resulting from the large reduction in shading from decreased dinoflagellate density. Consequently, GFP concentration and fluorescence showed distinct correlations in non-bleached and bleached corals. Green fluorescence was positively correlated with dinoflagellate photobiology, but its closest correlation was with coral growth suggesting that green fluorescence could be used as a physiological proxy for health in some corals.

Journal Reference

Melissa S. Roth, Dimitri D. Deheyn. Effects of cold stress and heat stress on coral fluorescence in reef-building corals. Scientific Reports, 2013; 3 DOI: 10.1038/srep01421

March 18, 2013 - 10:56 AM No Comments

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