The U.S. tropical aquarium market poses problems and opportunities for conservation, according to a landmark study published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE. The study reviewed import records in the U.S. for one year (2004-2005) and found that over 11 million wild tropical fish from 1,802 species were imported from 40 different countries. While the number of fish species targeted surprised researchers, the total amount of fish imported was actually less than expected.
“Coral reefs globally are already under tremendous stress from climate change, habitat destruction and pollution. Poor harvest practices of tropical fish for the home aquarium trade can add to that decline, yet when done right, it can help counter those effects provided the economic benefits of long term sustainability are met locally,” co-author Michael Tlusty, director of research at the New England Aquarium, said in a press release.
Still, concerns remain about overharvesting, damaging harvesting practices, the spread of disease, and invasive species. The top three nations trading to the U.S. were Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.
“There is a delicate balance between the global demand for aquarium fish, and its environmental and economic impacts,” lead author Andrew Rhyne, with Roger Williams University and the New England Aquarium, said. “Without mechanisms in place designed specifically to monitor the aquarium fish trade, we will never have a keen understanding of how it impacts our oceans and the global economy.”
The researchers call for a change in how wildlife imported data is reported in the U.S., including urging a real time system which they argue fix many of the problems in the current system. The researchers also note that a rise of interest in tropical aquariums could lead to rising awareness on the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, which are imperiling the world’s coral reefs through ocean acidification and climate change.
CITATION: Rhyne AL, Tlusty MF, Schofield PJ, Kaufman L, Morris JA Jr, et al. (2012) Revealing the Appetite of the Marine Aquarium Fish Trade: The Volume and Biodiversity of Fish Imported into the United States. PLoS ONE 7(5): e35808. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035808
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