The trade in saltwater aquarium fishes is one of the last segments of the pet trade where animals are routinely harvested from the wild in relatively large numbers. Not surprisingly, the trade is increasingly coming under scrutiny by those expressing concerns ranging from animal welfare to fishery sustainability. A profound lack of data make both allegations against the aquarium trade and defenses of the trade difficult to assess.

For a multi-million dollar global industry delivering as many as 40 million fishes per year to an estimated two million aquarists worldwide, it’s surprising how few data there are. Since 2009, a group of scientists from New England Aquarium and Roger Williams University have been working to change that. The next, and arguably most important, leg of that journey takes them to the number one source country for marine aquarium fishes—the Philippines.

I’m Ret Talbot, a freelance journalist who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability. Over the coming days, I’ll be following two of these scientists as they meet with their Philippine counterparts in an effort to further reveal both the volume and diversity of the trade in saltwater fishes. I invite you to join me for a multi-part special to, as I report from the Philippines on why these data matter and how the Philippines is set to transform the trade in saltwater aquarium fishes.

Click here for Part 2 in the series.

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