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By Jan TenBruggencate

(SEE: http://imina.soest.hawaii.edu/SEAGRANT/marine_ornamentals99/)

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (November 16, 1999 – The Honolulu Advertiser)---An international interest in saltwater aquariums has inadvertently harmed many tropical reefs around the world, and increased concern about their future.

Experts hope that better controls on the collecting of coral reef life and advances in raising corals, fishes and other reef life in captivity may turn the tide.

A Marine Ornamental Conference, scheduled today through Friday at the Hilton Waikoloa Village hotel on the Big Island, will review the status and future of the reef species that are sought for the aquarium trade.

"I don’t think it’s been absolutely proven that harvesting corals and net collecting of fish is unsustainable," although aggressive collecting can deplete or even remove species from limited areas, said Bruce Carlson, director of the Waikiki Aquarium.

More than 200 collectors, biologists, regulators, aquaculture farmers, environmentalists and others from around the world are registered for the conference, and will hear discussions of the major issues in the saltwater aquarium trade.

These issues include using cyanide to stun fish for collection, collecting and protecting giant clams, corals and other species, advances in identifying food for saltwater species, and the establishment of marine reserves to protect reefs.

"There is certainly a lot of pressure to have greater control over the collection and sale of these species," he said.

Some airlines are discussing strict regulations or outright bans on the transport of reef species, and some nations are reviewing bans on importing them. Carlson said that in some tropical areas, the collection and sale of marine species for the saltwater aquarium trade is residents’ only source of income.

Already, pressure from aquarium hobbyists and companies has improved collecting techniques in some areas, he said.

For Hawai‘i, controls on collection could mean a business opportunity for firms that develop the techniques to breed and raise prized saltwater aquarium species in captivity.

"Hawai‘i has an excellent opportunity to be a leader in this area. We have access to tropical waters," Carlson said. But there are still many bottlenecks. For instance, researchers still don’t know what many young tropical fish eat.

"We can look out there (into near shore waters), and we know it’s there, but we don’t know what it is," he said.

The theme of the Big Island conference is "Collection, Culture and Conservation." It is sponsored by the State of Hawai‘i; the Sea Grant College programs of Hawai‘i, California, Texas, Florida, Maryland and the national Sea Grant program office; Oceanic Institute; the Center for Tropical and Subtropical Aquaculture; Ornamental Fish International; Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine; the Marine Aquarium Council; Waikiki Aquarium; Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute; Mangrove Tropicals in Hawai‘i; and Oceans, Reefs and Aquariums in Florida.

For additional reports from The Honolulu Advertiser, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Honolulu Advertiser.

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