Saving Nemo: Transforming the marine aquarium Industry

Though Finding Nemo introduced millions of viewers to the beauty of reef fish, Nemo and most of his friends may literally end up down the drain.
WWF-Philippines estimates that as many as 98% of wild-caught reef fish die within one year and is now working on practical solutions for a sustainable marine aquarium trade.
 / ©: WWF / Gregg Yan
Since Finding Nemo clownfish populations have decreased
© WWF / Gregg Yan
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Two prospective customers are captivated by colourful reef fish. Despite the efforts of many hobbyists, most will die within a year.
© WWF / Gregg Yan
Mesmerized by the explosion of colour inside this fish tank the boys have no idea that longnosed butterfly fish are hard to keep alive. At a pet complex in Manila thousands of fish change hands daily.

In the 1970s, new technologies such as canister filters and artificial sea salt finally allowed hobbyists to keep live reef fish caught from the ocean.


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Butterflyfish, squirrelfish, surgeonfish and damselfish are just some of the reef fish for sale
© WWF / Gregg Yan

By 1992, the annual trade in wild-caught ornamental reef fish soared and today the trade is valued at over US$1 billion.

Forty nations supply some 2000 reef fish and 650 invertebrate species to a host of countries – primarily the United States, Japan and Western Europe.
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Fish are prepared for their journey to Japan.
© WWF / Gregg Yan

The Philippines and Indonesia remain the world’s top exporters of wild-caught reef fish, supplying about 85% of global demand. Lose regulations and the use of cyanide to catch reef fish has decimated many reefs.

In many places high-value ornamental fish like angelfish and clown triggerfish are conspicuously absent.

"Last night we shipped out thousands of fish in boxes" reveals an operator.

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As many as 98 of every 100 wild-caught marine fish die within one year.
© WWF / Gregg Yan

As many as 98 of every 100 wild-caught reef fish die within one year. WWF and its allies work to minimize alarming mortality rates for reef fish and invertebrates.

“Reef fish are not expendable décor. They have lives and important ecological roles to play in coral reefs,” explains veteran aquarist Joseph Uy.

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Cartimar and Marine Fish exporter
© WWF / Gregg Yan

WWF, through its Better Choices programme, recognizes that the trade in reef fish and invertebrates is a significant economic driver.

However, it must be vigilantly managed to spare reefs additional damage and to minimize post-harvest mortality rates.
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As specialist feeders, all seahorse species are difficult to keep.
© WWF / Gregg Yan

Almost all wild-caught marine fish are taken from coral reefs. A 2004 study by the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute found that only 1% of the country’s coral reefs were in excellent condition,” reveals WWF-Philippines Vice-chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan.

“The world’s marine habitats continue to be assailed by climate change, pollution and unsustainable fishing. Obviously, poor fish and invertebrate harvest practices do little for conservation.

All seahorse species are specialist feeders and difficult to keep with mortality rates estimated to be 90%.

Certified Philippine tank-raised seahorses are good alternatives and under a new ruling, they might soon be available for local sales and export to international markets.

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