Scientists call on US to stem ecological impact of trade in coral reef wildlife

Jun 28, 2010
Washington State University marine ecologist Brian Tissot, seen here surveying a coral reef, is lead author of a paper in Marine Policy asserting that US reforms can make the trade in corals and their fish more responsible, ecologically sustainable and humane Credit: John Coney

International law has failed to protect coral reefs and tropical fish from being decimated by a growing collectors market, but U.S. reforms can lead the way towards making the trade more responsible, ecologically sustainable and humane.

That's the view of 18 experts, including Washington State University marine ecologist Brian Tissot, writing in the journal Marine Policy.

"Our actions have a big impact on what happens in these coral reef , which are already hit hard by other forces like global warming, and overfishing," said Tissot, lead author and professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at WSU Vancouver.

Using data from the United Nation's conservation monitoring program, the authors say trade in coral and coral reef species is substantial and growing, removing 30 million fish and 1.5 million live stony corals a year. The aquarium industry alone targets some 1,500 species of reef fishes. Many die in transit, leading collectors to gather even more animals to compensate for their losses.

The result is some species have gone "virtually extinct," said Tissot. The Banggai cardinalfish, which is unique to a remote Indonesian archipelago, has had its numbers reduced and even eliminated through much of its range after it became a popular aquarium fish in the late 1990s.

The Marine Policy paper grows out of a meeting of more than 40 scientists, NGOs and policy experts during the 2009 International Marine Conservation Congress. Their concerns grew even more pressing after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, did not take action on key groups of corals this March. Authors include experts from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Marine Fisheries Service, Humane Society International, the Pew Environment Group and the Environmental Defense Fund.

With U.S. buyers accounting for more than half the trade in live coral, reef fish and invertebrates, the authors recommend leveraging U.S. market power to reduce the trade's environmental effects. They suggest laws to protect a wider variety of species, better enforcement that includes tracking a product's chain of custody, and reforms in source countries. They also recommend changes in marketing to promote sales of species certified as being humane and sustainable.

"The U.S.," say the authors, "should assume its role as an international leader in coral reef conservation and take steps to reform the international trade it drives."

Explore further: Study finds restoring wetlands can lessen soil sinkage, greenhouse gas emissions

Provided by Washington State University

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Coral reef was untouched by tsunami

Feb 23, 2006

Scientists say they've discovered a large coral reef off Thailand that was apparently undisturbed by the catastrophic December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Rare coral sold for fish tanks

Jan 19, 2008

British customs officials say the rising popularity of home reef aquariums is boosting an illegal trade in endangered live coral from around the world.

Study finds seasonal seas save corals with 'tough love'

Nov 29, 2007

Finally, some good news about the prospects of coral reefs in the age of climate change. According to a new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, corals may actually survive rising ocean temperatures ...

Major losses for Caribbean reef fish in last 15 years

Mar 19, 2009

By combining data from 48 studies of coral reefs from around the Caribbean, researchers have found that fish densities that have been stable for decades have given way to significant declines since 1995. The study appears ...

Recommended for you

Reef-builders with a sense of harmony

1 hour ago

Cold-water corals of the species Lophelia pertusa are able to fuse skeletons of genetically distinct individuals. On dives with JAGO, a research submersible stationed at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, scientists ...

Selling and buying water rights

6 hours ago

Trying to sell or buy water rights can be a complicated exercise. First, it takes time and effort for buyers and sellers to find each other, a process that often relies on word-of-mouth, local bulletin boards, ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gunslingor1
not rated yet Jun 28, 2010
No! Al Gore was wrong! Man cannot affect the planet!

I'm mocking environmental opponents.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.