Although reefs cover less than one quarter of 1 per cent of the marine environment, they are — considered to be amongst the most biologically rich and productive ecosystems on Earth, often described as the 'rainforest of the seas'1,2. Coral reefs support over 4,000 species of fish (or a third of the world's marine fish species), about 800 species of reef-building corals3, and a great number of other invertebrates and sponges.

Coral reefs provide millions of people with benefits, both direct and indirect, including fisheries, tourism and coastal protection2. Most coral reefs are located in developing countries, with millions depending directly on them as a source of protein and, at least in part, for their livelihoods. Reefs also support an important array of non-food commercial fisheries including the marine ornamental fishery.

It is generally acknowledged that the collection and export of tropical marine fish for the aquarium trade started in Sri Lanka in the 1930s, on a very small scale4,5. Trade expanded during the 1950s, with an increasing number of places (e.g. Hawaii and the Philippines) issuing permits for the collection of species destined for the marine aquarium trade^6. Although demand has fluctuated and trends vary from year to year, the overall value of the marine fish trade, accounting for about 10 per cent of the international ornamental fish trade (marine and freshwater included), has remained fairly stable in recent years. Figures for exports of live pieces of coral, on the other hand, showed annual growth of 12-30 per cent from 19907 until 1999, only stabilizing in the last three years.

It is estimated that 1.5 to 2 million people worldwide keep marine aquaria8, with 600,000 households in the United States alone9. Estimates place the value of the marine ornamental trade at US$200-330 million per year10,11 with 80 per cent of the trade in stony corals and 50 per cent of the trade in marine fish going to the United States12.

Unlike freshwater aquaria species, where 90 per cent of fish species are currently farmed, the great majority of marine aquaria are stocked from wild caught species13. With nearly all tropical marine aquarium fish and invertebrates in trade taken directly from coral reefs and adjacent habitats, the aquarium industry has

Species including striped thread fin, Poiydactyius piebeius

attracted some controversy14-17, particularly regarding its sustainability18 The high visibility of marine ornamental products has made the trade a magnet for criticism19. Articles in the press have tended to focus on the negative impacts of the trade with headlines often making the

Value of the aquarium industry

The aquarium industry as a whole is of relatively low volume yet very high value21,26, thus potentially providing an incentive to conserve reef habitats17,30 and offering a livelihood to coastal communities often living in low-income areas. In 2000, 1 kg of aquarium fish from the Maldives was valued at almost US$500, whereas 1 kg of reef fish harvested for food was worth only US$631. Similarly, the live coral trade is estimated to be worth about US$7,000 per tonne whereas the use of harvested coral for the production of limestone yields only about US$60 per tonne32. In Palau, live rock is exported for the aquarium trade at US$2.2 to US$4.4 per kilo whereas it is sold locally as construction material for less than US$0.02 per kilo33. Sri Lanka earns about US$5.6 million a year by exporting reef fish to around 52 countries5 and estimates indicate that 50,000 people are directly involved in the export of marine ornamentals34. In the Philippines, about 7,000 collectors depend on the reefs for their livelihood35.

Harlequin tuskfish, Choerodon fasciatus. Typical retail value can be as much as US$115 for an Australian specimen.
Seahorse fisherman in the Philippines at night.

assumption that the trade of marine ornamentals is incompatible with reef conservation.

Opponents to the trade emphasize:

□ the damaging techniques sometimes used to collect reef specimens20,21; sodium cyanide for example is a non-selective technique used to capture fish that adversely impacts the overall health of fish and coral and also kills

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non-target organisms

□ the over-harvesting of target organisms5,13,17,24, and

□ the high levels of mortality associated with insensitive shipping and poor husbandry practices along the supply chain21 25 26.

Some regulation has already been established; more is being ca lled for17 and may follow. With more than 2.2 billion people (39 per cent of the world's population) living within 100 km of the coast27, coral reefs are facing an increasing plethora of threats such as pollution, sedimentation, coral bleaching, overfishing and tourism. Reefs of Southeast Asia, the most important source of the majority of animals in the marine ornamental trade, are particularly at risk, with 88 per cent of all reefs at medium to very high threat from anthropogenic impacts28. It is therefore important that aquarium species' collection does not further compound these problems29.

Supporters of the trade maintain that, if managed properly, the aquarium industry could support long-term conservation and sustainable use of coral reefs. Some collection techniques have minimal impact on coral reefs. Well-managed shipping and husbandry practices, particularly relevant in the case of fish, can also allow mortality levels to be kept to minimal levels (as has been shown by some operators in the industry). In addition, aquarium animals are the highest value-added product that can be harvested sustainably from coral reefs, so collecting and exporting marine ornamentals in developing countries creates jobs in rural, low-income, coastal areas26 where resources and alternative options for generating income can be limited. Aquarium fisheries therefore have the potential to provide an alternative economic activity for coastal populations, an important source of foreign exchange for national economies5 and a strong economic incentive for the sustainable management of reefs. They may also help foster marine conservation by providing a strong incentive for subsistence fishers to harvest wild populations sustainably so as to maintain fish stocks and reef environments in good condition.

Domestic or public saltwater aquaria can provide a unique opportunity to educate the public about coral reefs and increase awareness and understanding of what is, for

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the most part, a hidden ecosystem . By allowing people to explore the complexities and appreciate the beauty of reefs, the need for creative solutions to environmental problems can be illustrated. In addition, an understanding of, and respect for, reefs can be sparked among users who are ultimately responsible for their conservation38.

Only 1 per cent (about 25 species)36 to 10 per cent6,37 of marine ornamental fish are captive-bred and probably less than 1 per cent of the total trade in hard corals is derived from cultured origins32. The development of mari-culture facilities could in theory allow pressure to be taken off wild populations. It should preferably be located in the

Petites Ties de la Sonde, a specimen collection site in Indonesia.

mostly developing source countries, in order not to deprive these nations of the income generated by trade. The application of international certification schemesii may provide an important tool for achieving this. Although still in its infancy, the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) certification process has made some considerable progress (see chapter on Conservation efforts, p 48). As more certified organisms become available, aquarium hobbyists will be in a position to make purchases in the knowledge that the organisms they are buying have been collected and transported according to a set of agreed and monitored standards.

The controversy over the environmental costs and benefits of the trade continues, largely due to a lack of quantitative data. Global species trade data are available for all species of hard coral and giant clams that are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)iii on Appendix II (species vulnerable to exploitation but not yet at risk of extinction). Shipments of corals and clams involving Parties to the Convention must be accompanied by a CITES export permit issued by the national CITES management authority. Parties to CITES are then obliged to produce annual reports specifying the quantity of trade that has taken place in each listed species. No marine aquarium fish (although Hippocampus spp. will be from 15 May 2004) or invertebrates, other than clams or corals, are listed in CITES Appendices.

The Global Marine Aquarium Database (GMAD) was set up in 2000 as a collaborative project between the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), MAC and members of trade associations in exporting and importing countries (e.g. the Indonesia Coral, Shell and Ornamental Fish Association (AKKII), the Philippine Tropical Fish Exporters' Association (PTFEA), Ornamental Fish International (OFI), the Ornamental Aquatics Trade Association (OATA)). It compiles accurate quantitative information on the aquarium trade through centralizing and standardizing sales records provided by aquarium wholesalers. Relevant information from these records is then placed in the public domain.

This study presents an up-to-date report on the marine aquarium trade. It first briefly describes the organizational structure of the trade both in source countries and at destination. The next chapter then introduces existing sources of data on the aquarium trade whilst the chapter on Analysis of trade data presents statistics and analyses of the trade in corals, fish and invertebrates derived from GMAD and other sources of information (e.g. CITES) where applicable. Conservation issues, including the use of destructive collection practices, impacts on marine ornamental populations, species' suitability for aquarium conditions, issues of invasive species and user conflict arising from the marine aquarium industry, are discussed in the chapter of the same name. The chapter on Conservation efforts presents steps taken by the industry and future efforts to be made at local, regional and global levels to ensure the marine ornamental trade develops sustainably whilst providing local communities with livelihood opportunities, promoting reef conservation by giving local people an incentive to maintain their reefs in a healthy state. The final chapter concludes the report and provides some recommendations based on its findings.

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