New Age of Aquariums: Eco-Friendly Tropical Fish Aquariums

Responsible tropical fish companies help assure that the colorful residents of your home saltwater tank were captured in an environmentally friendly manner.

| January/February 2005

Who would have thought that a tank of tropical fish in your living room would affect what happens to a wild coral reef on the other side of the globe? Tom Lindenfeld, for one.

When Lindenfeld, a political consultant in Washington, D.C., needs a break from politics, he visits the coral reef in his living room. He’s one of a growing number of aquarists—or aquarium hobbyists—who doesn’t want to contribute to damaging the ocean habitat he loves. Unfortunately, unethical aquarium trade practices result in depleted wild populations because of marine organisms that are over-harvested or collected in damaging ways.

To ensure that fish and coral reached his own tank through ecologically responsible and “fish-friendly” methods, Lindenfeld called on Tom White, president of Custom Aquarium Concepts in Herndon, Virginia, an ethically run marine aquarium business. White helped Lindenfeld and his family install a saltwater aquarium inhabited by dozens of colorful fish, starfish, shrimp, and corals. Since they got their first tank, he and his seven-year-old son, Sammy, have learned a great deal about various marine life as well as how to monitor and maintain proper water quality. Lindenfeld believes that as children discover aquatic ecosystems, they gain an understanding of how human actions affect global biodiversity.

Reefs at Risk

Lindenfeld isn’t alone in his interest in keeping a home marine aquarium. The pastime has become popular in recent years—especially in the United States, home to about two-thirds of the estimated 1.5 million saltwater hobbyists worldwide. The United States imports nearly half of the total global trade in aquarium fishes. It’s estimated that coral trade has increased 12 percent to 30 percent annually since 1990, with most destined for this country.

This burgeoning hobby, which has escalated since the release of the Disney fish flick Finding Nemo, can lead to unsustainable harvest of coral and other reef inhabitants, primarily in Indonesia and the Philippines. At one point, an estimated 50 to 60 percent of fish from the Philippines and 90 percent of Indonesian species imported into the United States were reportedly captured using poisonous chemicals. Although illegal in most countries, the use of cyanide to capture coral reef fish is widespread, reports the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. Cyanide is used to stun hard-to-catch reef fish that seek cover among coral and in rocky crevices. The poison damages the animals’ internal organs so that a large percentage of the fish die immediately or shortly after collection. Furthermore, cyanide kills many non-targeted species, including entire sections of coral, a living organism.

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