[Coral-List] Corals in the aquarium trade

Eric Borneman eborneman at uh.edu
Tue Oct 21 06:47:25 EDT 2008

Hi Lee and List:

Since my name popped up here, I thought I would weigh in. I have not  
followed the whole thread so excuse me if I am off topic in responding  
to your post.

I do agree with your assessment. I have a huge ethical problem with  
wild coral collection as it currently exists. I might not were I  
comfortable with monitoring and sustainability studies, with better  
trade practices, with the major players involved in the trade, and the  
advancement of a best-practice mariculture industry. As it is,  
mariculture is successful and available and supported but has many  
problems of its own, mainly within the trade, in terms of the number  
of pest species being introduced. Like other aquaculture/mariculture  
(e.g. shrimp, salmon), in situ propagation has all too often been  
hastily thrown together without much foresight and these will either  
remain a blight or eventually be made to work through trial and error  
(likely by economic rather than conservationist needs) .

I concede the important role that pubiic aquariums play in education  
and ocean literacy, I concede the advances in captive husbandry  
attained by professional and amateur aquarists, I concede the  
importance of ex situ experimentation now possible due to these  
advances, and I concede the significant economic value that  
sustainable collection and mariculture can provide.

I also think that most public aquariums could go a long way in  
improving their education and displays and that some displays are  
tragically awful in concept and execution, while others are  
exceptional. I lament that advances in coral husbandry from amateur  
aquarists has come at the cost of the often blind, disposable attitude  
and practice of trial and error where so many losses could have been  
avoided, and that the mass loss rather than the net production that is  
possible of corals in the trade is a very sore spot for me.  I writhe  
seeing ever present "popular" displays at public aquariums that exist  
solely for tourist draw rather than any real need to have them. There  
are times when events happen that cause mortality as in the wild, but  
there really is little excuse with the information available that even  
new aquarists and public aquariums, if educated and guided, shouldn't  
be producing and reproducing corals, in their tank from day one,  
rather than replacing them because they died. There should be no  
excuse for the paucity of advances in actual breeding going on with  
marine fishes and other invertebrates. Many of us continue to work  
towards this ideal end.

I also concede that despite collection of inappropriate species en  
masse for the masses is a waste even if sustainable, that for probably  
most species (though not all)  the aquarium trade is not a major  
threat to reefs, that the recent mass opening of new areas of harvest  
is not really needed or desirable, nor are public aquariums a major  
threat. But, this does not mean that we do not each share a  
responsibility to ensure that our individual impacts are minimal to  
non-existent (and hopefully net positive). There is a common argument  
in the aquarium hobby that "in the scheme of things we don't make a  
difference," or "compared to pollution/development/food fisheries/ 
climate change the aquarium trade is meaningless."  True, but the  
aquarium hobbyist may not be in a position to make much of an impact  
to these large global issues - except by individual action; reducing  
carbon footprints, eating from the most sustainable fisheries or lower  
on the food chain. And yes, most directly, through their habits as a  
hobbyist or professional aquarist. This type of thinking is as  
inexcusable as the suburban Hummer owner, or non-recycler, who thinks  
they are but one of hundreds of millions and their impact alone makes  
no difference.

Finally, I would like to point out the numbers of exports being thrown  
out here. These are the numbers that are reported. They do not include  
the mortality prior to export. They do not include unreported exports.  
They do not include the millions of soft corals, corallimorpharianss,  
zoanthids, anemones, and other invertebrates that also contribute to  
the diversity and function of reefs. They do not include the millions  
of herbivores, both vertebrate and invertebrate, that play  
increasingly important key roles on reefs. These are numbers that  
should be considered as well, not just the stony corals recorded  
because they are CITES organisms.

Eric Borneman
Dept. of Biology and Biochemistry
University of Houston
Science and Research Bldg. II
4800 Calhoun Rd.
Houston, TX 77204-5001

eborneman at uh.edu

On Oct 20, 2008, at 8:45 AM, Lee Goldman wrote:

> Hi Charles and list,
> I struggled with where the following response should be
> posted; directly to Charles or to him via the listserve. In the end,  
> I opted
> for the listserve because I believe there is a considerably large  
> interest in
> this subject. If we are to accept (and why not) what Dr Les Kaufman  
> wrote about
> the advances in our understanding of just about every aspect of  
> coral biology
> due to the ability to keep corals in captivity, then many people on  
> this list
> should be interested to some degree. Further, we as a community, are  
> blessed
> with the ability to find motivation in our work from living  
> organisms, thus
> their welfare is usually of serious concern. Understanding that this  
> topic may
> not derive as much alarm as a topic about global warming or  
> sedimentation, it
> is still relevant. But please forgive me if I assume too much (and  
> for the length of my post).
> Charles,
> I was cautioned against addressing this question. The
> reasons they gave me were ones that I already suspected with my  
> largest concern
> being that it was a set-up. You knew I could not answer that  
> question, and you
> counted on that, in not being able to answer the question it would  
> be assumed
> that there were no significant contributions towards reef  
> degradation from
> harvesting corals for the aquarium trade. Though I could be  
> interpreting your
> angle incorrectly, I believe it is irresponsible to think this way  
> in the
> absence of proper studies (and studies that look at all species in  
> the trade;
> at the targeted reefs over a long period of time; at individual  
> colony health,
> fecundity, ability to compete; and connectivity). In a way, though,  
> this
> position is no different from opponents of global warming who took  
> on the exact
> same argument.
> But rather, I appeal to the conservation side of it (my
> original post was prompted by Dr. Kaufman’s concern about  
> conservation) by
> suggesting that even if I cannot establish significant impacts,  
> there was an
> incredibly large amount of corals taken off reefs); and that it  
> certainly represents
> a less-than-desirable scenario (for both the individual coral colony  
> and the
> community) than if they were left alone. I stand by my numbers as  
> CITES is
> pretty clear…I added up the number of exports in 2007. Just over one  
> million…and
> several locations were not reporting such as Micronesia (Marshall  
> Is.);
> Melanesia (Solomon Is.); and Malaysia (Sabah). For your reference, I  
> added only
> the number of wild-harvested corals coming out of Indonesia. Had I  
> added the
> maricultured numbers, the count would have been closer to two  
> million. Of
> course, I can’t substantiate the incidentals as I described them in  
> the previous
> post, but are there any serious arguments that it doesn’t exist?
> I extend my argument to say that even if there is ‘no’
> impact, as you suggest, with all of the other threats to the reef,  
> is it
> affordable to remove corals for private enjoyment? And does it  
> translate to
> reef conservation?  I strongly suspect you
> would not concede the first point and emphatically promote the  
> second. So I
> wanted to bring up some areas of concern that perhaps you can help  
> me with. One
> addresses your ‘mathematical’ model (or dilution is the solution  
> to…) and the
> other, the very ethics of the aquarium trade with regards to how  
> respectful it
> really is (or what is one life worth…)
> First, it is well documented that over the past decade over
> 10 million corals have been exported from reefs for the aquarium  
> trade (roughly
> one million per year…and the early 90’s saw even higher numbers per  
> annum being
> exported). In the same time frame, we have lost (and are losing)  
> many areas of
> reef. Thus, when you have me compare the number of corals taken  
> versus the
> total area of coral reef (which in your description is not accurate  
> since all
> reefs at all depths are not harvested, and thus, the potential  
> impact cannot be
> translated world-wide, but needs to be addressed on a local scale;  
> i.e. what
> are the impacts to the local reef as a result of harvesting… 
> connectivity?....)
> what happens  to the numbers as the
> number of corals harvested remains the same each year while the area  
> of reef
> healthy reef declines? I’ll answer that with a question: The trend  
> is clear so
> when will it become a significant issue?
> Now the above approach requires some back-up because I can
> hear you say that perhaps aquaculture will catch up to the demand  
> and we won’t
> have corals harvested from the reefs. I don’t believe that will ever  
> be the
> case, but to make my point let’s look at this real-life scenario.
> Goniopora. Goniopora is a notoriously hard coral to keep in
> captivity. Even the most advanced aquarists have trouble keeping  
> them alive for
> more than a year with most captive life spans lasting far below  
> that. I think
> that I am safe to say that in the wild, Goniopora enjoys a much  
> longer lifespan
> than one year. One of the only published and responsible pleas to  
> aquarists asking
> for them essentially to cease in the pursuit to keep this coral (at  
> least until
> methods for keeping them humanly in captivity are discovered and  
> proven over
> time) is by one of the larger influences in the aquarium trade (and  
> who also should
> have been mentioned in Dr. Kaufman’s post , along with Mr. Delbeek  
> and Dr..
> Carlson); Eric Borneman. In his book on coral husbandry he clearly  
> mentioned of
> their trouble and cautioned against aquarists having them. In 2007,  
> nearly 150,000
> pieces (G. lobata, minor, stokes)
> were exported from Indonesia. The report differentiates between  
> those that were
> wild harvested and those that were maricultured (although I am less  
> than
> confident about the label ‘maricultured’ as a distinction between wild
> harvested). But that is not important because the number of  
> maricultured
> Goniopora was ‘0’. So Goniopora made up close to 15% of the total  
> exports of
> wild harvested corals and were among the highest against all other  
> species
> (only Heliofungia actriniformis was
> higher, compared to individual species of Goniopora, by 1000 pcs…but  
> also with
> ‘0’ maricultured). So, where is the ethical and conservative value  
> in the
> aquarium trade that imports high numbers of corals that are  
> exponentially less
> successful to keep than most other species of corals? It appears to  
> me that it is
> a clear death sentence and well, a sadistic one (because there are two
> potential patterns suggested by the numbers: 1) is that aquarists  
> buys one, it
> dies, they buy another one…; or 2) they are increasingly popular and  
> the demand
> is higher, but where is the education and conservation within the  
> aquarium
> trade to put a stop to this?).  Is the
> number of exported Goniopora sustainable to the wild populations? I  
> don’t know,
> do you? But is that the issue?
> Finally, I believe folks in the aquarium trade heavily support
> coral mariculture and propagation because they really suspect that  
> it is
> contributing to the overall threat of reefs (admittedly not on the  
> global
> warming or pollution scale). They may never outright admit it  
> (pleading the
> right to not say anything lest self incrimination). But if it wasn’t  
> a problem
> why propagate at all; why educate when one can simply get more at no  
> cost to
> the environment?  I am glad, though,
> that they, and certainly you, are helping to overcome this issue,  
> but until
> things do change and a significant reduction in demand is measured;  
> I hope
> that, if not me, other people will say it like it is. It may not  
> sound good to
> the general aquarium industry; but fair criticism given sincerely  
> does wonders
> for those that accept it.
> On a side note, I know you work within
> and earn a living from the aquarium industry so your questions are
> understandable, but I sit down with the folks after the MACNA  
> conferences and
> we talk about this around a beer (okay many beers). They all agreed  
> with this
> assessment and none of them tried to defend it with numbers. Rather,  
> they all
> honestly want to do something about which is why they invited me to  
> the
> conferences; to learn about my alternative techniques and ideas.  I  
> can’t give them enough respect for accepting
> this and striving for change…
> Regards,
> Lee Goldman
> Coral  Farm Guam
> PO Box 6682
> Tamuning, Guam 96931
> 671-646-6744
> Email: coralfarmguam at yahoo.com
> __________________________________________________
> Do You Yahoo!?
> Tired of spam?  Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around
> http://mail.yahoo.com
> _______________________________________________
> Coral-List mailing list
> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/mailman/listinfo/coral-list

More information about the Coral-List mailing list