New from Amazonas Magazine…

India’s Underground Fish Trade

28 Jun, 2013

Redline Torpedo Barbs, Puntius denisonii. Image: Melanocromis.

Redline Torpedo Barbs, Puntius denisonii. Image: Melanocromis.

New Paper Suggests Sustainability is Not Just a Discussion for Saltwater Aquarists

By Ret Talbot

Over the past few years, freshwater aquarists may have noticed activists increasingly targeting their saltwater counterparts, seeking, for example, the complete ban on marine aquarium fish collection and exports from Hawaii. Other advocacy groups are attempting to have some common fish and coral species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

While many attacks on the marine aquarium trade are bluster born of emotion and largely devoid of accurate scientific data, there do exist real concerns about the overall sustainability of the global marine aquarium trade. Those concerns are, in the best of cases, spurring discussions amongst stakeholders—amateur aquarists, importers, representatives of public aquaria—about the future of the trade and its impacts on ecosystems, fishers and fisher communities in impoverished developing island nations.

The same level of debate is not occurring amongst freshwater aquarists. This is generally assumed to be because the freshwater trade is primarily reliant on aquacultured livestock, not animals collected from the wild.

While roughly 90 percent of the marine aquarium trade’s animals originate on reefs, only about 10 percent of freshwater aquarium fishes have ever seen a natural ecosystem. Is the freshwater trade therefore above reproach when it comes to sustainability? Perhaps not: A paper just published in the journal Biological Conservation about India’s freshwater aquarium trade is the most recent paper to document problems that may warrant freshwater aquarists taking a more active role in the aquarium sustainability dialog.

Dawkinsia rohani. Image by Tabrez Sheriff posted on the Kolkata Aquarium Club site.

Dawkinsia rohani. Image by Tabrez Sheriff posted on the Kolkata Aquarium Club site.

Threatened and Endangered Endemic Fishes

At the heart of the Biological Conservation paper is the concern that India’s freshwater aquarium trade is having a detrimental impact on endangered, highly endemic fishes frequently harvested and exported for aquarium usage.

Just shy of one-third of all freshwater fishes exported from India for the aquarium trade between 2005-2012—the paper pegs the number at about 1.5 million animals—are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as either threatened or endangered. While some of these 30 species are exported in small numbers, others such as the Malabar Pufferfish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus), Zebra Loaches (Botia striata), Denison Barbs (Puntius denisonii) and P. chalakkudiensis (the latter two commonly called Redlined Torpedo Barbs or RLTBs) are exported in relatively large numbers. Most of the fishes are exported to Southeast Asian markets, where some are re-exported—many no longer bearing their country of origin information—to North America and Europe.

In addition to the aquarium trade’s impact on threatened and endangered species, the paper explores the impact on India’s endemic species. According to lead author, Rajeev Raghavan of University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) in the United Kingdom, at least 22 endemic species of freshwater fishes are threatened by India’s aquarium trade. While nine of them show a continuing decline in their populations, they continue to be harvested with very little (if any) science-based, adaptive fishery management in place. What little regulation has been put in place following several years of growing concern about these fisheries is, according to the paper, routinely subverted or simply ignored.

An Obscure, Open-Access Trade

The trouble with India’s freshwater fishery is alluded to in the paper’s title—“Uncovering an obscure trade: Threatened freshwater fishes and aquarium pet markets.” “Obscurity,” in one form or another, is a common problem when it comes to resource management in developing nations with resource extraction industries like forestry and fisheries. Lack of management, lack of transparency, lack of scientific data, and lack of regulation all contribute to the precarious position of vulnerable natural resources.

While there have been some efforts to protect endangered endemic fishes in India, fishers—and even more importantly middlemen who purchase from fishers—have proven effective at circumventing regulations. In several examples cited in the paper, endangered species only existing in protected areas where no fishing is allowed are being exported for the aquarium trade.

“In India,” Raghavan and his co-authors write, “the country that harbors the most number of endemic freshwater fishes in continental Asia, collection of such species for the aquarium trade is entirely open-access, unregulated and even encouraged by certain governmental and semi-governmental agencies.”

The paper focuses on the example of the RLTBs, “whose unmanaged collection during the last two decades is associated with severe population declines and an ‘Endangered’ listing in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.” As the authors of the paper recount, the growing global concerns about this fishery did in fact lead to increased regulation in India. In 2008, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, the Department of Fisheries issued a government order, which restricted collection and exports and applied several adaptive management tools. “[R]ecent studies indicate that these regulations were developed with minimum scientific input and offer little protection for the species,” say the authors. For example, a closed season was established based on assumptions about when the fishes breed, but scientific study has shown the assumed breeding times are incorrect. Further, with a lack of reliable, comprehensive data about the trade, it has been difficult to set effective quotas and size restrictions.

The Orange-spotted Snakehead, Channa aurantimaculata. Image by Melanochromis.

The Orange-spotted Snakehead, Channa aurantimaculata. Image by Melanochromis.

Speculation Rather Than Facts?

Raghaven is not without his critics, and some of them worry the paper focuses undue and disproportionate attention on the aquarium trade as the primary threat to the species in question. They point out the data presented in the paper is, at best, incomplete, and without complete data, it is easy to extrapolate conclusions that lack context and are more speculation than fact. They maintain India’s freshwater aquarium trade is “not an obscure one” and that the Marine Products Exports Development Authority (MPDEA) under the Commerce Ministry in India, while not perfect, is doing a competent job of managing the trade. “The fact that the authors were not able to take data from MPEDA and customs in Kochi, India does not mean that the customs and MPEDA do not maintain these files or records,” says one industry insider in India, contradicting statements made in the paper.

Most of the individuals critical of the paper, many of them industry observers with firsthand knowledge of India’s freshwater fishery, agree in principle with the paper’s thesis—that there are significant problems with the freshwater aquarium fishery—but they warn the situation is far more nuanced than the paper suggests. “Mislabeling species and dodging regulations is business as usual in India’s aquarium trade,” says one stakeholder. “Overfishing is common and management is non-existent, but the situation is not as bad as the paper makes it out to be. It’s a very small number of fish that are collected by fishers.”

Many stakeholders in India and abroad are taking an active role in making the Nation’s freshwater aquarium trade better. Stakeholders are addressing issues such as reporting and oversight, supply chain mortality and a lack of emphasis on breeding India’s endemic species in India. In 2012, The Conference on Sustainable Ornamental Fisheries; Way Forward identified key challenges India’s ornamental fish industry will have to face in the future and recommendations for moving forward with a sustainable freshwater aquarium trade reliant on a combination of wild harvest and aquaculture. Identifying challenges and making recommendations for improvements is an important step as India moves along the path to a more sustainable freshwater aquarium trade, but actually implementing those recommendations is the hard part, especially given the coordination required between government and non-government entities.

As one industry insider in India says, “It is high time that the ornamental fish industry in India stands united and look at this issue of conservation and the conservationists seriously and try to justify if the activities carried out by them fall to a sustainable trade.”

Aquarium Trade Unfairly Singled Out?

Critics of the aquarium livestock industry, both freshwater and marine, have a longstanding habit of singling out the trade when other issues are having a far larger impact on ecosystems and species.

“I am not saying that the information provided by the authors on the state of the indigenous Indian species is wrong,” says an industry observer. “I fear that the situation might indeed be very bad for some of the species. I am also not saying that the ornamental fish trade is innocent. It is very likely that there is overfishing in some—possibly in many—areas. But I do get the feeling that a small-volume, high-value trade has been singled out as an appropriate target because of its visibility, rather than because of its size.”

The paper acknowledges other anthropogenic stressors such as sand mining, construction of dams and pollution from pesticides are all contributing to the crisis for many of these highly endemic fishes. Further, the paper points out, some of the species are targeted as both aquarium fishes and food fishes, and indiscriminate fishing and blast fishing are both relatively common in India.

As is frequently cited by advocates of the aquarium trade, collecting fishes for aquarium usage certainly has an impact, but they maintain it’s very small compared to much more significant assaults on aquatic ecosystems. While this may be true, conservationists point out the impact of even minimal fishing on a species restricted to an extremely small area can be profound. An example cited in the paper is the endangered species Garra hughi, the Cardamon Garra, a stone sucker with an endemic range believed to be less than 300 square kilometers (116 sq. mi.). Should this species really be harvested from its extremely small range for the aquarium trade?

Easy Answers, Easy Targets and Shooting Fishes in Barrels

If the aquarium trade’s impact is so minimal compared to other impacts, why does it receive a disproportionate amount of attention from those claiming to be “speaking for the fishes”—people like Robert Wintner or any of the numerous NGOs with anti-trade agendas. One easy answer to this question is that the aquarium trade is, to use a cliché, the lowest hanging fruit. Largely disorganized, underfunded and fragmented, the aquarium trade has proven relatively ineffective at presenting a unified front with a science-based sustainability platform. To continue with the bad idioms, attacking the aquarium trade is a bit like shooting fish in barrel.

Sea Shepherd Vice-President Robert Wintner is a veteran campaigner against the aquarium trade and its devastating impact on Hawaii reefs. Photo: Deborah Bassett / Sea Shepherd

Sea Shepherd Vice-President Robert “Snorkle Bob” Wintner is a veteran campaigner against the aquarium trade and what he calls its “devastating impact” on Hawaii reefs. Photo: Deborah Bassett / Sea Shepherd

That’s the easy answer—that the trade is an easy target. The far more complex answer must take into account the totality of the trade. Sure, far fewer fishes are harvested for aquaria than are harvested for food, and even the most careless aquarium fisher does considerably less damage than a trawl net or blast fishing. But keeping an aquarium is never framed as a necessity the way eating fish is. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide—many in developing nations—depend on eating fish as a critical source of protein, but how many people’s lives hang on keeping an aquarium?

Most people perceive keeping an aquarium as a pastime or hobby—even a luxury one—and as such the environmental impacts associated with collecting aquarium fishes invite greater scrutiny. The average member of the public—a non-aquarist—hears that endangered, endemic fishes in India are being further threatened by collection for fish tanks, and what is he or she to conclude? Thinking about the aquarium trade this way makes it perhaps a little easier to understand why some people believe the easy answer is that if there is to be an aquarium trade at all, it should be 100-percent dependent on aquaculture.

Aquarium Fisheries as Agents of Positive Change

Of course the easy answer of relying exclusively on the farming of fishes, invertebrates, and plants for the aquarium trade fares no better than other easy answers.

While only a small percentage of freshwater fishes originate in the wild, collection impact can, nonetheless, be significant. For example, a well-documented freshwater aquarium fishery in Brazil is showing how sustainable aquarium fisheries can provide some of the best incentive to conserve critical habitat, while at the same time providing important socio-economic development opportunities that keep local fishers and fisher communities connected to the resource.

Unfortunately, the opposite can also be the case as the paper in Biological Conservation contends. While the fishery in Brazil’s middle Rio Negro basin is a model suggesting more sustainable freshwater aquarium fisheries in the developing world could be a real asset from both an environmental and socio-economic standpoint, India’s freshwater aquarium fishery, as presented in the paper, is an example of what can go wrong when a fishery remains largely unregulated and understudied.

As in the example of Brazil’s middle Rio Negro basin freshwater fishery, we know sustainable aquarium fisheries can be primary drivers behind critical ecosystem conservation. We also know sustainable aquarium fisheries can be very good for fishers and fisher communities from a socio-economic standpoint. In some cases, sustainable aquarium fisheries can be the best, most expedient paths to creating real economic incentive to conserve, and there are already pilot programs and plans to turn India’s freshwater aquarium fishery into a success story similar to the middle Rio Negro basin, but these programs need the support of the aquarium trade and, ultimately, aquarists.

The real answer to all of these complex questions is for those of us who care to have the dialog. Freshwater aquarists, like their saltwater counterparts, need to be thinking more about sustainability in the big picture. They need to engage in discussions at their local fish stores, in their clubs and through the aquarium media. They need to be willing to use their purchasing power at the point of sale to make educated choices that will help move the aquarium trade down the path to greater sustainability. And they must, of course, keep in mind that the clock is always ticking for species like the Zebra Loach, a highly endemic species that is thought to occupy less than 400 square kilometers and yet was identified in the Biological Conservation article as one of India’s main aquarium exports.

About the Author

Ret Talbot writes frequently about sustainability issues and is a senior contributing editor of AMAZONAS and CORAL Magazines. He lives with his wife Karen in Rockland, Maine.


Uncovering an obscure trade: Threatened freshwater fishes and the aquarium pet markets
Rajeev Raghavan | Neelesh Dahanukar | Michael F. Tlusty | Andrew L. Rhyne | K. Krishna Kumar | Sanjay Molur | Alison M. Rosser

Biological Conservation
Volume 164, August 2013, Pages 158–169


While the collection of fish for the aquarium pet trade has been flagged as a major threat to wild populations, this link is tenuous for the unregulated wild collection of endemic species because of the lack of quantitative data. In this paper, we examine the extent and magnitude of collection and trade of endemic and threatened freshwater fishes from India for the pet markets, and discuss their conservation implications. Using data on aquarium fishes exported from India, we try to understand nature of the trade in terms of species composition, volume, exit points, and importing countries. Most trade in India is carried out under a generic label of “live aquarium fish”; yet despite this fact, we extracted export data for at least thirty endemic species that are listed as threatened in the IUCN Red List. Of the 1.5million individual threatened freshwater fish exported, the major share was contributed by three species; Botia striata (Endangered), Carinotetraodon travancoricus (Vulnerable) and the Red Lined Torpedo Barbs (a species complex primarily consisting of Puntius denisonii and Puntius chalakkudiensis, both ‘Endangered’). Using the endangered Red Lined Torpedo Barbs as a case study, we demonstrate how existing local regulations on aquarium fish collections and trade are poorly enforced, and are of little conservation value. In spite of the fact that several threatened and conservation concern species are routinely exported, India has yet to frame national legislation on freshwater aquarium trade. Our analysis of the trade in wild caught freshwater fishes from two global biodiversity hotspots provides a first assessment of the trade in endangered and threatened species. We suggest that the unmanaged collections of these endemic species could be a much more severe threat to freshwater biodiversity than hitherto recognized, and present realistic options for management.

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June 29, 2013 - 9:32 AM No Comments

First Batch Of Lightning Clowns are up for Auction…

The First Lightning Maroon Captive-Breds: What Am I Bid?

21 Jun, 2013

First-generation captive-bred "Lightning" Maroon Clownfish. Image copyright © 2013 Matt Pedersen.

First-generation captive-bred “Lightning” Maroon Clownfish. Image copyright © 2013 Matt Pedersen.

Three years after a strikingly pigmented aberrant morph of Premnas biculeatus was collected off Fisherman’s Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and quickly made headlines throughout the aquarium world, the first captive-bred Lightning-type offspring are about to reach the open market via an online auction.

Dubbed the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish, the prize catch was imported by Dave Palmer’s Pacific Aqua Farms in Los Angeles and placed with amateur breeder Matt Pedersen through its retail affiliate Blue Zoo Aquatics.  Pedersen was the MASNA Aquarist of the Year in 2009, in recognition of his breakthrough success in acclimating and breeding the Harlequin Filefish,Oxymonacanthus longirostris, an obligate corallivore. (Full disclosure, Pedersen is a CORAL Magazine senior editor.)

Group of F1 young descendants with Lightning Maroon genes. Not all display the distinctive lattice-like white pigment pattern.

Group of F1 young descendants with Lightning Maroon genes. Not all display the distinctive lattice-like white pigment pattern. Image copyright © 2013 Matt Pedersen.

An online auction is set to begin sometime on the weekend beginning June 22nd of a limited number of young Lightning Maroons, as well as several full siblings that display white bars but none of the distinctive dappling of the original wild broodstock. Pedersen says that the first round of bidding will include “five F1 offspring: two with the “Lightning” pattern (and presumably Lightning genetics) and three non-Lightnings with more classic “White Stripe” patterning, the normal 3-stripe form, although one fish in particular has some additional spotting.  (Images of all fish are being posted on the Lightning Maroon blogsite.)

According to Blue Zoo Aquatics director Mark Martin, “These F1 PNG beauties are the only available PNG bloodline Maroon Clownfish left on the market AND they are the first Lightning patterned clownfish to hit the market since Mama Lightning was imported and sold to Matt almost three years ago. The auctions will be open to anybody with an eBay account in the US and the first shipments to the lucky winners will hit around the first week of July.”

Details of the auction can be found on the Blue Zoo site. Martin invites interested aquarists to sign up for newsletter updates. More details on the breeding of the fish can be found on Matt Pedersen’s blog, The Lightning Project.

Breeding Considerations

“Since we don’t know how Lightning genetics work,” says Pedersen, “I cannot say whether the regularly patterned siblings carry an important Lightning genetic component (like a hidden recessive gene) or not.  It is my hunch, however, that the Lightning trait is either a dominant or partially dominant trait, although with the 50/50 split (Lightnings to “Classic Maroons”) in the first generation offspring, the possibility of a recessive trait is there.

Future Stock Available?

Will more be coming? “If things go well with the initial five being auctioned by Blue Zoo, there are approximately 25 additional siblings that we’ll sell in this manner,” says Pedersen.

His Lightning broodstock are on hiatus right now, following the recent birth of Matt and Renee Pedersen’s second child, a daughter named Audrey.

Lightning Project blog is a journal documenting the challenges and successes of Matt Pedersen encountered in his attempts to breed this unusual clownfish.

Lightning Project blog is a journal documenting the challenges and successes of Matt Pedersen encountered in his attempts to breed this unusual clownfish.

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June 25, 2013 - 3:43 PM No Comments

New Tetra Discovered - from Amazonas Magazine.

New See-Through Nano Tetra Discovered

12 Jun, 2013

Cyanogaster noctivaga, the Blue-bellied Night Wanderer Tetra.

Cyanogaster noctivaga, the Blue-bellied Night Wanderer Tetra. All images by Dr. Ralf Britz, Natural History Museum, London, UK.

“It is a strange little animal, completely transparent with an otherwise unique colour pattern,” says London Natural History Museum fish ichthyologist Dr. Ralf Britz of a tiny new tetra he helped identify and name.

It’s been dubbed the Blue-bellied Night Wanderer, Cyanogaster noctivagaCyanogaster meaning blue belly and noctivaga meaning night wanderer. It is 17mm long, and in addition to its bright blue belly, it has large eyes, and unusual-looking snout, mouth and teeth.

Dr.-Ralf-BritzIt is only 7mm longer than the world’s smallest fish, and seems to only appear at night, but the bright blue belly of a miniscule Amazonian fish caught the eye of a team of scientists who spotted that it was a new species and genus.

Britz worked with expedition leader Monica Toledo-Piza, George Mattox and Manoela Marinho from the University of Sao Paulo (USP), Brazil, on the scientific expedition in 2011, with the fish’s scientific description recently published in 2013 in the journal Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters. Britz is an AMAZONAS contributor and a world-renowned expert on tiny fishes.

Rio Negro, the largest tributary of the Amazon River. Red dot indicates location where the new tetra was collected.

Rio Negro, the largest tributary of the Amazon River. Red dot indicates location where the new tetra was collected.

The blue-bellied fish was discovered in the Rio Negro, the largest tributary of the Amazon River. This area of the Amazon basin is probably one of the best explored, so finding not only a new species but a new genus too, was quite a surprise.

The team could only find the blue-bellied fish in one place on the Rio Negro, and it could only be found at night. “The fish appeared as a fast swimming blue streak in the net,” says Britz.

Not only was the fish hard to find, but as soon as it was lifted out of the net it died. In order to get a photo of the live fish to show its unique colouration, Britz had to improvise.

‘I set up a photo tank right at the shoreline with the camera and flashes ready to shoot. Then my colleague George and I went into the water and pulled the net towards the shoreline. I then used a large spoon to scoop them out of the net and transfer them into the photo tank without lifting them out of the water.’

World’s smallest fish similarities

The Blue-bellied Night Wanderer is tiny, but how does it compare to the world’s smallest fish, which Britz helped study in 2006?

“The largest Cyanogaster individual we collected was 17.4 mm long, which is about 7 mm longer than the largest Paedocypris progenetica.”

The two little fish seem to prefer similar habitats too. Britz explains, “The Rio Negro in Brazil, like the Asian peat swamp forests, has acidic blackwaters and like the peat swamps, it harbours a large number of miniature species.

“Small size seems to be favoured in mineral-poor water and Cyanogaster is another example of this rule.”

Strange teeth

The number and shape of teeth, or dentition, is very useful for naming and classifying fish and especially those of the order Characiformes, the group the blue-bellied night wanderer belongs to.

The fish skeleton is stained to make it easier to study its tiny structure, which is only 7mm longer than the world's smallest fish.

The fish skeleton is stained to make it easier to study its tiny structure, which is only 7mm longer than the world’s smallest fish.

The blue belly has 2 rows of teeth in the upper jaw, an inner and outer. There are only 4 teeth with several cusps (cusps are the tips) in the inner row and 1 conical tooth (only one cusp) in the outer row.

The blue-bellied fish has a unique dentition, number and shape of the teeth in the upper jaw – a single conical tooth in the outer row (marked with a dotted line) and 4 teeth in the inner row.

“All other members of the subfamily Stevardiinae and actually most members of the family Characidae have a different number and arrangement of teeth. So this helps to demonstrate that our little ‘bluebelly’ is something quite different, a new genus,” says Britz.

More specimens found

And there was a final surprise. While the scientific description of the new fish was being prepared, more specimens of the fish were discovered.

Britz explains, “My Brazilian colleagues found a few specimens in the museum collection in Sao Paulo, (Museu de Zoologia, Universidade de São Paulo), which were collected as early as 1980, but had remained unidentified.”

Britz concludes, “This demonstrates again the importance of maintaining museum collections, in which previously unknown diversity can still be discovered.”

From materials released by the Natural History Museum, London, UK

All images courtesy the Natural History Museum.

Once dead and preserved, the colour is lost, as seen in this museum specimen collected by the expedition.

Once dead and preserved, the colour is lost, as seen in this museum specimen collected by the expedition.

Cyanogaster noctivaga, a remarkable new genus and species of miniature fish from the Rio Negro, Amazon basin (Ostariophysi: Characidae)
George M. T. Mattox, Ralf Britz, Mônica Toledo-Piza and Manoela M. F. Marinho

Ichthyol. Explor. Freshwaters, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 297-318, 11 figs., 1 tab., March 2013
© 2013 by Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil, München, Germany

Cyanogaster noctivaga, new genus, new species, is described from the Rio Negro, Brazil. It
is a miniature fish of the Characidae belonging to the Stevardiinae based on the presence of ii + 8 dorsal-fin rays and four teeth in the inner premaxillary tooth series. The new taxon can be distinguished from all other members of the Stevardiinae by having the reduced number of i + 5 pelvic-fin rays and the presence of a single conical tooth in the outer pre-maxillary tooth series. Other non-exclusive diagnostic features of Cyanogaster within the Stevardiinae are the lack of maxillary teeth, the incomplete lateral line, transparency of the body and conspicuous blue abdominal region. Mature males have hooks on the pelvic- and anal-fin rays. A detailed osteological description of the new genus and species is is presented with comments on its putative relationships.

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June 17, 2013 - 8:42 AM No Comments

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

In the fish room - from the good folks at Amazonas Magazine

Today in the Fishroom – Amphilophus hogaboomorum

24 May, 2013

The large male Amphilophus hogaboomorum @ 13″ (33 cm)

The large wild (F0) male Amphilophus hogaboomorum @ 13″ (33 cm), sometimes known as the Guayas Cichlid or the Harlequin Cichlid, a native to Honduras.

I don’t spend enough time just watching my fish.  And I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment.  Most would agree that a good deal of “tank time” is cleaning, feeding and maintaining the tanks…and of course the weekly water changes.   I have two breeding pairs of these beautifulAmphilophus fish.  Each pair is in a 180-gallon tank by themselves so they have plenty of room to do what cichlid fish do best…breed and raise fry.

One of the coolest things, by far, is watching the pair guide their fry back and forth across the tank.  Last night as I was watching the one pair, I noted that their group of fry had managed to split themselves in half across both sides of the tank.  So I kicked back to see how the pair would handle the dilemma. The female of the pair is always the action parent, darting back and forth between the two groups. The male also participates, he has to…the female seems to keep him moving as well with well placed nips on his fins.

As I watched, the female would swim to one group, flare her fins, shimmy then swim back toward the other side of the tank.  Ever so slowly the fry would inch back across the tank. The male would remain in place with the larger group, the female swinging by to “touch base” and give him a nip to keep him alert (I guess).  It was very interesting to watch the dynamics between the two and their fry.  Enjoy the photos!

Female Amphilophus hogaboomorum keeping watch over the fry.

Female Amphilophus hogaboomorum keeping watch over the fry.

The male keeping an eye on one half of the fry while the female got busy rounding up the stragglers.

The male keeping an eye on one half of the fry while the female got busy rounding up the stragglers.

The female rounding up the fry on the other side of the tank.

The female rounding up the fry on the other side of the tank.

Imagine having to worry about ALL of these “kids” at one time. No wonder cichlids are expert parents.

Imagine having to worry about ALL of these “kids” at one time. No wonder cichlids are expert parents.

Both male and female Amphilophus hogaboomorum with the entire group under their watchful eye.

Both male and female Amphilophus hogaboomorum with the entire group under their watchful eye.

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June 4, 2013 - 9:37 AM No Comments

This getting a little weird

Male Seeking Mate: Must Want Kids – Quest to save Ptychochromis insolitus

11 May, 2013

Male of the critically endangered Mangarahara Cichlid, Ptyochromis insolitus - image: ZSL

Male of the critically endangered Mangarahara Cichlid, Ptychochromis insolitus. Image: ZSL

The old dating saying about there being “plenty of fish in the sea” is not holding true for the critically endangered Mangarahara Cichlid, whose known worldwide population is down to two lone specimens surviving in captivity in the UK.

Aquarists at ZSL London Zoo are launching an urgent worldwide appeal to find a female mate for the last remaining males of a critically endangered fish species.

The Mangarahara Cichlid (Ptychochromis insolitus) is believed to be extinct in the wild, due to the introduction of dams drying up its habitat of the Mangarahara River in Madagascar, and two of the last known individuals, unfortunately both male, are residing in ZSL London Zoo’s Aquarium.

The Curator of the Aquarium at ZSL London Zoo, Brian Zimmerman, along with colleagues at Zurich Zoo in Switzerland set about trying to find other Mangaraharan Cichlids in zoos around the world – using international zoo and aquarium associations to reach as many experts and aquarists as possible, but had no luck finding surviving females.

The team at ZSL London Zoo are now launching a desperate appeal for private aquarium owners, fish collectors, and hobbyists to come forward if they have or know of any females in existence, so that a vital conservation breeding programme can be started for the species.

Female of the critically endangered Mangarahara Cichlid, Ptyochromis insolitus - image: Berlin Zoo

Female of the critically endangered Mangarahara Cichlid, Ptyochromis insolitus, since died in an attempted mating encounter with a male. Image: Berlin Zoo

Launching the appeal, ZSL London Zoo’s Brian Zimmerman said: “The Mangarahara Cichlid is shockingly and devastatingly facing extinction; its wild habitat no longer exists and as far as we can tell, only three males remain of this entire species.

“It might be too late for their wild counterparts, but if we can find a female, it’s not too late for the species. Here at ZSL London Zoo we have two healthy males, as well as the facilities and expertise to make a real difference.

“We are urgently appealing to anyone who owns or knows someone who may own these critically endangered fish, which are silver in colour with an orange-tipped tail, so that we can start a breeding programme here at the Zoo to bring them back from the brink of extinction.”

ZSL London Zoo is asking anyone with information about the cichlids to email the team at

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May 20, 2013 - 2:56 PM 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

“Fishzilla” Loose in Central Park Lake

“Fishzilla” Loose in Central Park Lake

02 May, 2013


A large, fearsome predator, the Northern Snakehead grows to lengths in excess of 40 in (1 m) and has a notorious worldwide reputation as an invasive species. Credit: Maryland Dept. of Fisheries Service.

Peaceful Harlem Meer has long been a place to cast a fly or a worm-baited hook in hopes of catching something in the panfish category—yellow perch, small bass, and crappies—but several fishermen have been reporting surprise or downright terror when they have latched into toothy gamefish with pugnacious attitudes and mouthsfull of razor-sharp teeth.


Harlem Meer, a manmade lake dating from the 1860s in New York’s Central Park, is now reported to be home to a population of introduced Northern Snakeheads, Channa argus. Credit: Central Park Conservancy.

Tucked into the northeastern corner of New York City’s Central Park, Harlem Meer is an 11-acre manmade body of water created started in 1861 today appears to have been invaded by Northern Snakeheads, Channa argus, an apex freshwater predator native to China and Korea and a notorious introduced species in a number of countries and U.S. states, including Florida, Maryland, California, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, including British Columbia in Canada.

There is considerable concern among North American fish and wildlife experts that the Northern Snakehead might make it into the Great Lakes and seriously disrupt a huge aquatic ecosystem. NY officials say it is “unlikely” it can migrate from Central Park and end up in the Hudson River, and thence spread northward to Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence River and westward toward Lake Ontario.

Biologists regard this fish, which can grow to lengths in excess of 40 inches (102 cm) and more than 15 pounds (6.8 kg), as a voracious species capable of seriously impacting native species of fishes and other aquatic life. Dubbed “Fishzilla” or “Frankenfish” by some, it has the anatomical ability to breathe aerially, making it capable of living out of water for several days. Young of the species are reported to be able to wriggle overland for short distances, raising the spectre of the fish migrating from one body of water to another.

Intentional Releases

Although aquarists are often blamed for releasing exotic fishes into the wild, most of the blame regarding snakeheads is pointed at the Asian food fish trade, which traditionally offers live snakeheads for sale to cooks. Federal US law has forbid the possession, sale, or transport of live snakeheads since 2002, but they are in high demand for Asian cookery and folk medicine uses and somehow make their way into North American markets.


Northern Snakehead is prized by Asian chefs for its first flesh, but represents the sort of new predator that could dominate ecosystems where it is artificially introduced. Credit: USGS.

In a recent article on the newly discovered Harlem Meer population, Marc Santora of The New York Times reported one potential major source of the species in the New York area:

“After the seizure of 353 live snakeheads at Kennedy International Airport on the eve of the 2010 Chinese New Year, an investigation led to the arrest of a local wholesaler in 2011 who illegally imported thousands of snakeheads and sold them from a shop in Brooklyn.”

Authorities are trying to determine the extent of population of the Central Park snakeheads and have not yet announced any control measures. In other instances, snakeheads have been exterminated by the use of the botanical rotenone, which unfortunately wipes out all other fishes in the same body of water.

Fish and wildlife managers are telling fishermen that hooked snakeheads must never be released, but rather turn in to authorities or killed by “cutting or bleeding.” A wooden stake through the heart is said to be effective.

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May 4, 2013 - 9:54 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

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