It's so calming to watch aquarium fish float in and out plastic of coral reefs and little plants that sway back and forth. It certainly makes the time go faster if you're sitting in your doctor's office or wherever.
You may have wondered where all those fish come from. The pet store is the natural answer and, yes, they do, but how they got there is, well, a little fishy.
The aquarium trade is a global industry with no centralized database to track what gets bought and sold, and with no central governing body to enforce regulations. It's an international trade that spans the Philippines to Sri Lanka and right here in the USA in Florida and Hawaii. In Hawaii millions of reef animals are collected each year but nobody seems to know an exact number because less than 50% of the required collection reports are filed.
Experts estimate the true catch to be 2 - 5 times higher than reported.
Lots of these fish die very quickly as it's pretty tough to keep them captive in little glass boxes. Nine fish die for every one that makes it to a hobby tank, expeerts say. Once they make it to a tank the survival rate is still not so great. Most wildlife will die within weeks due to the inexperience of the handlers.
Basically, the fish and other sea creatures get stressed -- they are cramped and not fed properly the majority of the time.
Andrew Rhyne is with the the New England Aquarium in Boston and Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. He says there are about 1800 tropical fish involved in the trade industry.
Rhyne says removing animals from their habitat can have an effect on their survival as a species and their habitat. Remember the food chain in 6th grade? Everything is dependent on other species to survive.
About 86% of the fish imported into the U.S. come from the Philippines and Indonesia and they have some of the worst managed fisheries. It is illegal to use cyanide — a poison that can stun fish and make them easier to catch, but nobody is watching the waters and it is still being used.
When the movie "Finding Nemo" came out everyone wanted Nemo in their fish tank. Fortunately, clownfish were already being cultured in captivity, so there were enough to satisfy the increased interest. That's not always the case and sudden popularity of a single species can result in over-fishing and population decline, even extinction.
The key to having an aquarium is education. Know about the fish you are purchasing and take the time out to find captive-bred animals, like clownfish. What we purchase here has a big impact on coral reefs. Besides what's wrong with plain old goldfish?