Divers and Fish

Craig Bingman cbingman at panix.com
Sun Nov 4 17:20:01 EST 2001

On Sat, 3 Nov 2001, Mike Risk wrote:

> I find your reply unconvincing. From the other postings, it seems that a
> piece of furniture will last a good deal longer than a captive specimen in
> an aquarium!

First, I don't recall any aquarist commenting on the longevity of reef
fish or other marine organisms in aquaria.  There was a post from Daphne,
indicating that she feels that anemones are short-lived in aquaria.  I
would contrast what she has written with the experience of my friends in
the hobby and several public aquaria, where tropical host anemones have
reproduced by binary fission (primarily E. quadricolor) and have survived
for periods of time greatly longer than five years.  Many reef fish (given
proper care) probably survive much longer in aquaria than they would have
in the ocean.  Stony corals have been fragmented and passed from aquarium
to aquarium.  Although the technology for keeping them alive has been
widely distributed for only the last ten years or so, there are several
clonal strains in the hobby that are that old or nearly so.

Moreover, you are missing the point.  If you buy a piece of furniture, you
don't have to feed it, you don't need to learn anything about keeping
tropical hardwoods alive.  You need not develop any sort of appreciate
for the natural environment of tropical hardwoods.  It just sits there
like, well, a piece of furniture.  You sit on it, eat on it, lay down on
it (whichever is appropriate) and none of those activities promote
ecological awareness.  Perhaps I'm hanging around in the wrong circles,
but I've never once heard a person, on looking at a piece of furniture,
exclaim "gawd, tropical hardwood trees are magnificent and precious!"
Probably because they aren't looking at a tree.  They are looking at a
tree that was sawn into lumber, assembled into a piece of furniture and
bears zero resemblance to the organism of origin.

Contrast this experience with what goes on when you own an aquarium.  You
are constantly taking care of it.  You are making up for evaporation,
putting calcium and carbonate alkalinity into the system.  Feeding the
fish and invertebrates.  Removing nutrients via some physical chemical
process, bioassimilation or dilution.  You are, in short, the manager of
a tiny patch of coral reef and it is absolutely dependent on you for every
vital function, from illumination to water motion.  You are responsible
for selecting a suitable group of organisms, so that algae don't grow
unchecked, so that there isn't undue aggression, etc.  It is quite a
balancing act.  People become quite good at it, and learn a great deal
along the way.

> You seem to feel that having the financial resources to buy
> stock for a marine aquarium somehow conveys a sense of ecological
> commitment. That has not been the case with many of the examples with which
> I am familiar.

Without knowing more about the unspecified examples "with which you are
familiar," it is difficult for me to to speak to them.

If you invest kilodollars in a reef setup and fail to learn the relevant
lessons, then you have taken a kilodollar financial bath.  Ouch.  If you
spend kilodollars on tropical hardwood furniture, you get to sit on it
whether or not you learn anything.

> I would be happier with the aquarium-keepers if I saw
> evidence of a collective movement to demand accountability and
> sustainability.

There are collective movements to promote accountability and

> There is another ethical issue involved here. While I laud the efforts of
> the aquarium trade to learn to culture fish and inverts in vitro, so to
> speak, we need to realize that this transfers the technology and income from
> the coastal residents of Third World countries, who were the "owners" of the
> reefs in the first place, to residents of the developed nations.

No, if the techniques and technology are invented here, then no technology
is transfered *from* third world countries.  As things stand, the
technology and techniques for captive propagating these animals have been
developed in first world countries, and in many cases, transfered *to*
third world countries for their benefit.  It is enormously expensive in
terms of the required amount of electrical energy for light and water
pumps to captive propagate stony corals in, let's say, New York, where I
live.  It is much more economical where labor is inexpensive and light is
free, like on the reef.  Labor is inexpensive there as well.  As a
spin-off benefit, these initiatives help foster the idea in these third
world communities that reef corals are intrinsically valuable, and they
aren't just an obstacle to catching fish and good primarily for scraping
the bottoms of boats.

Moreover, I think you are holding us to a standard that is rarely, if
ever, met in the real world.  I ate some bread today.  Does that mean I
need to send some money to the middle east, where wheat was first
cultivated and domesticated?  Was it wrong for us to bring that plant to
the United States?  I guess that all of those farmers in Kansas are
denying middle eastern farmers their birthright to be the sole cultivators
of wheat!  Probably some folks in central and south America have a bone to
pick with us over the corn and potato issue as well.

> A truly ethical aquarium trade would support efforts to erect sustainable
> export operations in host countries. And while I'm at it I may as well wish
> for world peace.

There have been and are a number of efforts to culture corals and other
invertebrates in third world countries.  A variety of techniques and
technologies have been used.  These range from fragmentation and grow-out
of stony corals in local lagoons to more cash and technology intensive
clam propagation efforts.

While the aquarium hobby is far from perfect, there is a great deal of
momentum towards sustainability and captive propagation.  This is all
happening spontaneously, largely due to forces inside the hobby.

cbingman at panix.com

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