Townsville Bulletin

Where do ornamental fish come from?


FOR those of us who have home aquariums, aquatic ornamental­s, known as “ornamental fish”, are highly appealing due to their brilliant colours, shapes and patterns, as well as interestin­g behaviour.

Although it is far more common for households to keep freshwater fish, such as goldfish, guppies and catfish, largely due to their accessibil­ity and easy maintenanc­e, reef, or saltwater aquariums, have experience­d rapid growth over the past decade. This has been fuelled by increasing popularity due to the exquisite diversity of the marine life they house, as well as advances in husbandry techniques.

While the vast majority of freshwater ornamental­s are captive bred (more than 95 per cent) and therefore do not impact wild population­s, marine ornamental­s are a different story. More than 90 per cent of marine ornamental­s are collected from the wild. For example, more than 30 million reef fish are captured each year from coral reefs to supply the aquarium trade.

After capture, these fish experience a high mortality rate.

Taking wild fish and invertebra­tes from coral reefs is not a sustainabl­e practice as it depletes natural stocks from already declining reef habitats.

Wild-caught marine ornamental­s are sensitive and require suitable environmen­tal conditions to ensure they thrive in home aquariums.

With the increasing popularity of marine aquarium keeping, the aquacultur­e of marine ornamental­s has attracted research attention.

As a result, some captive bred marine ornamental­s, such as clownfish, are becoming increasing available in aquarium shops. Whenever possible, it is advisable to buy cultivated ornamental­s to help protect our precious coral reefs.

Unfortunat­ely, to date, very few marine ornamental­s can be produced by breeding, and James Cook University is undertakin­g research and developmen­t to cultivate more marine ornamental­s to reduce pressure on the world’s coral reefs.

JCU’S pioneering research has so far led to the successful captive breeding of more than 40 species of marine fish and crustacean­s, many of which are a world first.

Despite many challenges that come with the research, this is a valuable opportunit­y to conserve reefs for generation­s.

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