A cog in the engine of conservation…

by | Sep 22, 2014 | Science | 0 comments

1024px-NOAA_logo.svgWhen NOAA released its plans to add 20 coral species to the list of threatened species, the reef aquarium hobby took a hit. Not only does it mean our right to keep those 20 species, (many of which are popular aquarium corals) will be under the microscope, it adds public stigma to reef aquariums, making reefers appear, “like those people that want to keep endangered species.” Suddenly, we may appear more like the weird lady who has tigers in her backyard, or a chimp in her living room. In reality, reef aquarists are miniature versions of the staff seen at public aquariums, dedicated, smart, innovative and caring. More than a few of my friends in oceanic conservation don’t fully understand what keeps me, and millions of others, in a hobby that takes from Mother Nature. What they don’t know, is that dedicated reef aquarists understand coral biology, like no one else, and have helped pave the path, to not only a sustainable hobby, but re-populating threatened reefs.

In 2010, I had the distinct honor of working with Ken Nedimyer, of the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF). In the Florida Keys, Ken is working to save planet Earth’s third largest barrier reef, by re-populating it with maricultured corals. It’s a slow and tedious process, and CRF uses massive underwater nurseries in the Caribbean, to grow species that are in stark decline. The Caribbean species that were on NOAA’s threatened list prior to the new ruling, are all species Ken focuses on, in his restoration efforts.

CRF_logo__newAs I swam along the tract of artificially created reef, surveying the intricate work done by CRF, a thought occurred to me. Why not tap into a network of aquarists, worldwide, to help contribute to this program. The mariculture systems used by CRF have some problems, which we can easily control in aquaria. A coral nursery in the ocean, cannot be protected from in climatic weather, (such as 2013’s severe drop in temperature throughout the south) hurricanes, or predatory species. Flamingo tongue snails, which are common throughout the Caribbean, would destroy any attempt to mariculture gorgonians, and the keys are home to numerous parrotfish, all of whom consume coral. It seems like a natural fit, use aquarists as an engine to restore the ocean, not destroy it.

Hanging-corals-2If granted a license from NOAA, to propagate corals needed to restore the Florida Keys barrier reef, the turn-out from interested aquarists could possibly be immense. At your disposal are thousands of people, educated on coral biology, and capable of propagating the species that are needed in a totally controlled environment. Many of us are even scuba divers, who could assist transplanting the coral into their oceanic home. An entire workforce, right here, trained and ready to take action. Ken himself isn’t shy when discussing the downsides to the CRF’s efforts. There are setbacks, and the nature of growing corals in and of itself, requires patience that the Florida Keys barrier reef cannot afford.

No matter how it’s spun, the NOAA ruling will not help public perception of reef aquarists. The public at large, doesn’t know the hours of personal study, sacrifice, time and capital we have placed into our aquariums, or our knowledge of wild reef ecosystems. They don’t understand how coral, likely means more to a seasoned reef aquarist, than it does anyone else, and that the last thing any of us want to see are dead wild reefs.

imagesSo perhaps, bringing reef aquarists into the fold of marine conservation and restoration, instead of portraying us as ruthless environmental takers, would offer a better long term management plan, not only for NOAA but organizations like CRF. It will be impossible for aquarists to contribute to reef restoration, or progress our knowledge of coral biology, if the government tells us it’s legal to house many great beginner species. Frogspawn, which appears on the NOAA list, is a popular beginner coral, and helps pave the way for aquarists to understand more complex and demanding species.

Since 2008, the diving industry saw a sea change, (no pun intended) in promotion of conservation and science diving. I was lucky enough to be involved in it, as a science instructor for the Beautiful Oceans academy. We helped conservation outlets GPS map reef systems, while empowering resorts worldwide, to teach their visiting divers about coral reef biology. The program went well, until PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) upped their internal conservation, ecological diving programs, making the need for an independent third party disappear. There is no reason why the reef aquarium industry cannot do the same. I believe, if NOAA would unclench their fist, and open their hand, they would find that aquarists worldwide are willing to answer such a call.

  • Jeremy Gosnell

    Jeremy Gosnell has been an aquarist for nearly all of his life. While studying sociology in college, he began writing for Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Magazine, moving over to Fish Channel and Aquarium Fish International in 2005. In 2008 he began composing feature articles for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and today serves as TFH's monthly saltwater Q&A writer, and is a member of the peer review content editorial board.After becoming a PADI certified dive master and specialty instructor, Jeremy trained with the Beautiful Oceans Academy as a science diver, specializing in coral reef biology, ecosystems and food chain hierarchies. He worked with Beautiful Oceans to promote scientific diving and underwater GPS coral reef mapping and bio-diversity studies for both scientific study and recreational dive charters.He holds various scuba related certifications including PADI master scuba diver, dive master, specialty instructor, DAN dive emergency specialist, marine wildlife injury specialist and several TECH REC technical certifications, including deep water diving, re-breather diving and cave diving.In his spare time Jeremy is a science fiction writer, and his debut novel Neptune's Garden was released in 2010. His second novel is being released later in 2015. Both books are oceanic in nature, exploring the existence of the mythical kingdom of Atlantis, from a scientific viewpoint.

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