Wreaking Havoc on Coral Reefs

Coral reef_orange clown fish_NOAA_David BurdickCoral reefs and their wildlife, like bright orange clownfish, sea anemones and colorful sponges, face threats like climate change and overfishing every day. But there’s a lesser known threat lurking among the waves: international trade in coral reef animals for “ornamental” uses like home and business aquariums, jewelry and household decorations.

Although some coral importers demand responsible stewardship, most do not. As a result, coral reef wildlife sold in the U.S. are typically collected and imported using practices that cause significant environmental harm.

In many cases, people collecting coral wildlife will crush corals, or dump poisons like cyanide, bleach or gasoline into the water to stun fish and other wildlife, making them easier to gather. These practices damage or even destroy corals and other important species that build the reef habitat. Collection also removes ecologically important species, like parasite cleaners and algae grazers, thereby reducing biodiversity.

Coral reef_NOAA_Elizabeth KeenanTo make matters worse, up to 40% of animals taken for importation die shortly after they are collected. That means collectors must take even more animals from the reefs, which further increases the damage to the entire ecosystem.

The fate of the Banggai Cardinalfish, a striking yellow and black striped fish with delicate, arching fins, is an example of the tragic consequences of irresponsible harvesting practices. After just six years of collection for ornamental use, the Banggai Cardinalfish population dropped by more than 50%.

Finding a solution:

Defenders is working with other conservation and humane advocates to find solutions to this problem. But YOU can help too! If you plan to buy fish or other wildlife for a home or business aquarium, ask the vendor for assurances that the creatures were collected and imported using sustainable and humane practices.

By improving the way we trade in coral reef wildlife, we can protect the health and unique beauty of coral reef wildlife and ecosystems and make sure they’re here for generations to come.

Learn more:

This week, Defenders’ coral scientist Dr. Dan Thornhill talked with host June Stoyer from The Organic View about how both climate change and the wildlife trade can impact the health of coral reefs.  Click here to download the interview!

Feeling the Heat: Hear Defenders’ board member Jeff Corwin talk about the world’s coral reefs – and how climate change is slowly killing these magnificent hotspots of biodiversity.

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