By John Virata
The marine aquarium trade in the Philippines and Indonesia supplies approximately 85 percent of global demand, according to the World Wildlife Fund-Philippines. This demand, combined with 40 years of little to no regulation in these islands nations has overexploited these reefs, which are rich in biodiversity. A 2004 University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute study says that only 1 percent of the island nation’s reefs are in excellent condition, with the remaining 99 percent damaged by such factors as climate change, pollution and unregulated and unsustainable fishing.
Because of this, the WWF-Philippines has recommended, through its Better Choices Program, a series of practical solutions for both marine aquarium keepers and the approximately 4,000 aquarium fish collectors in the Philippines.
The WWF-Philippines has created a list of recommendations in an effort to relieve some of the pressures on the country’s reefs. These initial recommendations include:
- Avoid purchasing hard to keep fish such as cleaner wrasses, mandarin dragonets, Moorish idols and seahorses. WWF Philippines list the mortality rates of these fishes at 99 percent.
- Promote hardy fish, such as clownfish, damsels, certain gobies and wrasses, and surgeonfish. These fishes enjoy far better survival rates than other species, the WWF said.
- Use artificial corals and invertebrates if aquacultured corals are not available, consider artificial corals and reef rocks. Avoid invertebrates such as hard corals (which are illegal to harvest in the Philippines), sponges and anemones.
- Purchase aquacultured fish and invertebrates
The Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has approved a program that enables fish farmers to apply for wildlife ranching permits that enables them to collect a certain number of wild fish that will serve as brood stock for aquaculture purposes. The BFAR requires that 30 percent of juvenile captive bred fishes be returned to the reefs.
- Increase the price of saltwater fish and invertebrates
The idea here is that keeping these animals alive can be challenging and higher prices will also mean better income for those catching them with less fish having to be caught. This in turn benefits the health of the reef.
“Regulated collection using nets and not poisons, better stocking and shipping techniques plus imposing sensible size, catch and species limits can provide collectors both sustainable livelihoods and a strong incentive to protect instead of exploit our reefs,” said Jose Maria Lorenzo Tan, WWF-Philippines Vice-chair and CEO. “In the South Pacific nations of Fiji, Tonga and the Solomon Islands, local communities are learning to sustainably farm hard and soft corals, giant clams and live rock (compacted corals or reef rock encrusted with marine life) for export to western markets.”