Steven Spielberg should be thoroughly spanked for creating the Jaws movies and demonizing sharks and instilling a phobia of the deep sea in a whole generation of people. Some of that damage was repaired through recent cartoon movies like Finding Nemo which romanticized marine life and made the reef fish look so cute. I thought that would make people want to protect the marine ecosystem even more. But, the spotlight on coral reefs may have actually worked against the reefs' favour, for the increased attention and popularity of marine fish increased the demand for marine aquariums.
Yes, marine aquariums are a threat to the world's coral reefs and marine ecosystem. I just came back from my neighbourhood aquarium shop where I went to buy some fish food for my mom's guppies. I knew for many years that the shop existed. But only today I discovered to my horror that this shop was specialized in marine fish.
The shop had rows and rows of tanks filled with all types of marine species. They probably had half of the number of species in our National Aquarium. There were moral eels, ribbon eels, stonefish, lionfish, parrotfish, bannerfish, Moorish idols, dotty backs, gobies, blue-spotted rays, bamboo sharks, seahorses, pufferfish, anemonefish, surgeonfish, damselfish, remoras, angelfish, octopus, hard corals, soft corals, anemones, giant clams, etc. I even saw nudibranchs (Hyselodoris apolegma and Phyllidia sp.) and little shrimps.
Now, I have a thing against private marine aquariums.
1. Marine aquariums are very delicate systems that are a man-made attempt to replicate the natural saltwater environment of the sea. Marine aquariums are much more difficult to maintain than freshwater aquariums. The fine balance of salt, ammonia and minerals in seawater has to be maintained 24/7. I don't think most people have the commitment to maintain their saltwater aquarium for the long-term. As a result, the fish they buy will not live long and just become another sad case.
2. Marine aquariums should be kept only by those who have the resources to maintain them, i.e. public aquariums, hotels, shopping malls and serious hobbyists who are willing to spend hours maintaining the tanks, pumps and filters. However, who among us part-time petkeepers is willing to devote such time and money? In most cases, the fish will just die and we soon forget them. How sad.
3. Marine aquariums rely on fish harvested from the wild. This is hardly regulated, and results in overharvesting and depletion of the natural stocks. I noticed that most of the fish sold in the shop were juveniles, which means they do not have a chance to reproduce. When you kill off the children, you're basically killing off entire future generations. No wonder there are less and less fish in our marine parks like Pulau Redang and Pulau Perhentian.
4. Harvesting of marine species for aquariums reduces the opportunities for tourists to see them in the wild. That's a dent to the tourism industry. Of course, tourism itself also harms the environment, but that's another story.
5. Mortality rates of marine aquarium fish are high, because we're trying to sustain their life in an artificial environment. At the shop, I saw a worker casually scoop out a dead lionfish from the tank and dump it in the rubbish bin.
6. The trade of certain protected species is regulated by international law. In case you didn't know, laws are not made to be broken, nor rules to be broken. And, ignorance is not bliss.
7. The survival and health of the marine ecosystem and coral reefs directly and indirectly impacts our own health. Our fish comes from the seas. Coral reefs are fish breeding and feeding grounds. If we kill off the fish, we kill off our own food supply.
I almost thought of boycotting that shop, but I still bought the little bottle of fish pellets which cost RM4.50. I'll save my battle for another day. Maybe I'm just biased, but I prefer to see marine life in their natural habitat.
But if you're into marine aquariums, you must ask the shopkeeper where the supply of fish and corals come from. Ideally, make sure it's only from sustainable, farmed sources, and not from the wild. But if it's from the the wild, make sure they have a permit for it.