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

Aqua Blue Distribution, named the first Australian business to be awarded the Foxtel Business Grant Award.


QLD company, Aqua Blue Distribution, named the first Australian business to be awarded the Foxtel Business Grant Award.

10 April 2013 – Foxtel has today announced that local aquarium, aquaculture and reptile supplies wholesale company, Aqua Blue Distribution, will be awarded the inaugural Foxtel Business Grant. The prize consists of tailored business coaching from Switzer Group valued at over $10,000.

Husband and wife team, Tim Jacobson and Robin Brown, started Aqua Blue Distribution in 2002 and have since steadily grown their business year on year. Tim and Robin import quality products from all over the world, and also manufacture in Australia where possible. They proudly represent some of the world’s most innovative and premium brands, and back this up with exceptional customer service.

As the Managing Director of Aqua Blue Distribution, Tim said “This award has come at an ideal time for us – both Robin and I are thrilled to have won. We’re so excited to start the coaching; having a customised, one-on-one session with an expert is absolutely invaluable for a small to medium business like ours”.

Tim said they will use the coaching session to find new ways to actively grow their expanding business in a sustainable way, and to simply gain some insights into more efficient business practices.

Marco Miranda, Sales Director at Foxtel said “Foxtel is delighted to provide Aqua Blue Distribution with the very first Foxtel Business Grant Award. Tim and Robin are very deserving winners and Foxtel is proud to provide them with the opportunity to grow their business and improve their trading practices”.

About the Business Grants Promotion

Foxtel for Business, in collaboration with the Switzer Group, will provide four $10,000 business coaching packages to Australian small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) quarterly in 2013.

Foxtel for Business understands the challenges facing Australian SMEs and so has created the Foxtel Business Grant Award in a bid to further support these organisations and provide the opportunity for selected businesses to develop and grow their practice.

Foxtel for Business is passionate about providing simple and cost-effective business solutions, through tailored entertainment packages and is one of the most efficient ways to create atmosphere, keep staff motivated, attract new customers and keep them coming back.

Foxtel also has the unique ability to tap into talent and expertise not only in the business space, but across a range of industries through their entertainment network, which means they can deliver better experiences for their customers.

For more information about the Foxtel Business Grant Awards or to apply in the next draw, visit The current round runs from 18 March – 3 May 2013.

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April 11, 2013 - 4:17 PM Comment (1)

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

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