Breeding Tropical Fish to Save Coral Reefs

While you may be getting a unique glimpse at life beneath the ocean’s surface while on a Hawaii Ocean Project Snorkel tour, we wanted to give you an inside look beyond the beauty and into what is happening to our beloved reefs along with some ways you can help!

Unfortunately, some of the themes of the movie Nemo are very real. There is a part of the fishing industry that commonly slips under the radar where fish are captured alive and put on display. The conversation surrounding wild-caught ornamental fish is controversial because of the impacts that are being seen in reef ecosystems. While reefs around the world have been affected indirectly as a result of climate change, rising temperatures and acidification, the use of cyanide as well as overfishing seen in the decorative fish industry is directly impacting the survival of these reefs.

What is being done to counter this?
Many conscientious fish collectors, as well as scientist, are hoping to alleviate this by farming those valuable ornament fish that are often sought after. The Maui Ocean Center, for instance, has been promoting captive breeding with high hopes that by the year 2020 around 20% of display fish will be acquired from aquaculture facilities instead of out in the wild. The Hawaii Pacific University’s Oceanic Institute in Honolulu, as well as the University of Hawaii’s Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center in Hilo, have both been focusing on how to breed these high-valued species in tanks. They are looking to create a process that commercial producers can eventually replicate successfully!

But farming these fish is only half the battle, there is also encouraging hobbyist fish collectors to actually purchase captive-bred fish instead of the covetable and “pure” wild-caught ones. As the brainchild of Hawaii-based activist, Rene Umberger, Tank Watch is a smartphone app that lists over 50 reef fish that are widely available through those farming efforts. Her hope is that by making farmed fish readily available, these collectors will feel more inclined to purchase from facilities versus seek them out in their natural habitats.

So what can you do? Well admiring from afar and in the wild is always a good place to start. While it would be incredible to take a piece of Maui home with you, we do recommend keeping those tropical beauties in the warm Hawaiian waters they call home. If you must have a souvenir, our gift shop is the perfect place to find it and you can also support our research direct program! When you are out on an ocean adventure here on the island, keep in mind that there are some harmful effects of sunscreen as it washes into the water so be sure to wear reef friendly sunscreen that protects both your skin as well as the marine ecosystems! And keeping the sea healthy goes beyond those direct actions, there are several ways you can save the ocean.