First, let me say that I am just offering my humble opinion here as an aquarium hobbyist. I will, admittedly, offer links with more information than I have enough time to sort through. However, I believe that this post itself is testimony to the fact that aquarium hobbyists may be in the forefront of the education and science about marine conservation and the ocean ecosystem.
Currently, there is legislation being proposed in Hawaii that is seeking to ban or regulate the marine aquarium trade. This legislation is seeking to close or regulate Hawaii’s marine aquarium fishery. Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) have put together a great website about the legislation in Hawaii at HawaiiBanFactCheck.org.
My thoughts about marine and ocean conservation come from the fact that I am a SCUBA diver, home aquarium hobbyist, and volunteer at the Georgia Aquarium. Personally, when setting up my new marine aquarium I’m going to put every effort into finding livestock that has not been taken from the ocean. As a SCUBA diver, I dive so that I can see and enjoy the beautiful ecosystem that the ocean and it’s reefs provide and I want those animals to be there and remain there for all divers to enjoy. The Georgia Aquarium has a 4R Program. This stands for Rescue, Rehabilitation, Research, and Responsibility.
As a home aquarium hobbyist, selecting my livestock is the biggest issue. For corals and sessile invertebrates, I will try to find frags. Frags are fragments of corals that are delicately taken and kept alive so that they can be traded, sold for fairly cheap, or donated to other reef aquarium hobbyists. There are too many frag trading websites to list here. You can also go to your local pet store that sells marine aquarium livestock and ask them about their frags, and if they will trade with you. There are several excellent ways to get beautiful sessile invertebrates for your to place in your marine aquarium that don’t involve taking anything out of the open oceans and off of natural coral reefs.
Finding marine fish is a little bit more difficult. After all, a fish can’t be fragged to successfully grow another fish. However, captive-bred fish are available. Captive-bred fish are generally better adapted to aquarium conditions and diet, and demanding to buy captive-bred fish keeps the collection pressure on wild populations to a minimum.
The main point to take away from all of this for the home aquarium hobbyist is to do your research about where your livestock is coming from. Try to find a conservation-minded dealer that offers captive-bred fish and aquacultured invertebrates. Second, keep your livestock healthy! If you keep killing your fish and invertebrates, and keep acquiring more, then you are taking those specimens from somewhere. If your unhealthy animals are captive-bred fish or aquacultured invertebrates, those specimens are being taken from the next aquarium hobbyist that might’ve wanted to care for those specimens in a healthy manner! If this occurs with wild specimens, then you keep taking from the beautiful, wild, open ocean ecosystem. Keep your water clean and keep your livestock healthy.
This is not to say that I believe that all marine aquarium fisheries should be banned from all collection. Regulated? Maybe in a way that involves true science and research rather than emotion and non-research based accusations. Also, some fish are very difficult to breed. Some fish have never been bred in captivity. Allowing aquarists to care for, observe, research, and study some of those animals may just end up being scientifically beneficial. Then, they will hopefully educate!