Gazing into a marine aquarium can captivate anyone’s imagination. It’s amazing to watch as light plays over unique and colorful fish, some of which are so intensely beautiful that one could only wonder how their patterns and shapes ever came to be. The distinctive fish and other animals from all over the world’s oceans are the heart and soul of the marine aquarium hobby. The desire to keep some of Mother Nature’s most exotic and amazing creatures has kept the hobby alive, fueling its growth from humble beginnings into a multimillion-dollar industry. Most marine aquarists realize that the vast majority of saltwater fish offered for sale have been wild-caught, taken from their home on the coral reef to enter the aquarium trade. In some cases these animals have traveled across the globe to wind up in our aquarium. If we understand the journey these animals have taken, perhaps we can be better attuned to what we, as aquarists, need to provide to keep them healthy. Many of the fish caught from the wild perish before they even make it into a hobbyist’s aquarium, and many do not last long after purchase. Some of these species are hardy and live for a long period of time when offered the proper care, but other species that are captured and imported are xtremely fragile and only thrive under the observation of an experienced and thoughtful aquarist.
Where All Those
Marine Aquarium Fish
Marine aquarium fish include species
from nearly all areas of oceans throughout
the world. Common species like the
yellow-headed jawfish Opistognathus
aurifrons, Spanish hogfish Bodianus rufus,
bluehead wrasse Thalassoma bifasciatum,
and Atlantic blue tang Acanthurus coeruleus
are Caribbean and tropical Atlantic species.
They are collected in areas of Florida and
islands throughout the Caribbean.
Rarer and more expensive species such as
sohal tangs Acanthurus sohal, purple tangs
Zebrasoma xanthurum, combtooth gobies
Amblygobius rainfordi, and others come
from the Red Sea. The Red Sea is a unique
body of water located in the Middle East.
Political tensions in that part of the world
combined with the individuality of the
species are the reasons that animals from
this area command much higher prices than
species from other oceans. The Red Sea has
a much higher density than many regions,
with areas reaching a specific gravity of
1.032 and above. Compared to most reef
aquariums that are kept at a density of
1.025 to 1.027, the Red Sea is very salty.
Common species such as yellow tangs
Zebrasoma flavescens, yellow-eyed kole tangs
Ctenochaetus strigosus, and convict tangs
Acanthurus triostegus are from the Indo-and South Pacific regions, often collected
off Hawai‘i and other islands. Mandarinfish
Synchiropus splendidus and most clownfish
Amphiprion spp. are imported from the
South Pacific in areas like Palau, Fiji,
and South Africa. The Solomon Islands
and other South Pacific island nations
supply a large amount of both fish and
coral to the marine aquarium trade, as do
mainland Southeast Asian countries. The
U.S. represents the world’s largest market
for ornamental fish, taking in a staggering
60 percent of all fish exported for the
marine aquarium trade. The reefs around
Southeast Asian nations are rich in species
diversity of both fish and coral, making the
region a large world player in the marine
How Marine Fish
At one point, many marine fish were
captured using cyanide and other poisons.
These mixtures were crudely used by
individuals who did not have the proper
training or understanding of their effects
on the reef environment or fish health and
physiology. The mixture was dumped into
the water, and many fish were stunned.
They could then easily be netted. The
problem was that many of these fish had
sustained severe internal damage due to
the poison. Also, the surrounding reef
structure was ultimately killed. Areas of
the Philippines were totally decimated due
to cyanide fishing for both the food and
ornamental fish trades.
96 www.tfhmagazine.com September 2009
Barracuda Sphyraena sp. on a reef off Nassau Island, Bahamas; one benefit for fish being captured for the marine aquarium trade is getting away
from voracious predators like this that inhabit the reef.