Raising fish in captivity could save coral reefs

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The amount of healthy coral reef has taken a dive toward the deep end, but scientists are attempting to help it make a comeback.

Breeding ornamental fish in captivity is becoming a more popular way to reduce coral reef damage.

Joan Holt, the associate director of the Fisheries and Mariculture Lab at UT Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, came up with the idea 20 years ago.

“My interest began while diving in Belize, observing very small juvenile reef fish on isolated coral hummocks in sea grass beds,” Holt said.

Currently, most saltwater ornamentals are caught in the wild, and the fishing process damages the reefs. Holt said she learned about the damage associated with collecting marine ornamentals for the aquarium trade after researching the lifestyles and habitats of ornamental fish.

Although she was unsure whether saltwater fish would successfully breed in captivity, Holt said she gave it a shot to prevent damaging any more coral reefs. Holt said pygmy angel fish and Cuban hogfish were only the first of many successful reproductions.

“We spawn these fish in captivity and hatch out the eggs, which only takes 24 hours, and then hatch out the larvae under varying environmental conditions and planktonic food,” Holt said. “Such research would define optimum conditions for growing the larvae and provide guidelines for habitat requirements.”

Eighteen species of fish and shrimp have now successfully reproduced in captivity and seven different species have survived to adulthood, Holt said. She said this new system of breeding could also boost sales for ornamental fish tanks.

“The marine aquarium trade is a big business,” Holt said. “This could be very good for communities that have previously captured these species in the wild.”

Holt continues to research at UT Port Aransas and shares her knowledge with students.

“I took some classes in Port Aransas over the summer, and I heard about Dr. Holt,” said marine biology senior Alyssa Roach. “I think breeding fish in captivity is definitely better than hurting coral reefs.”

Even students not majoring in marine biology can see the benefit of the idea.

“I think that if it’s good for the environment and it’s good for people, then it’s a good thing,” said urban studies senior Nick Prejean. 

Printed on September 22, 2011 as: Breeding fish in captivity reduces coral reef damage