For the past several years, I have had the opportunity to explore the source country side of the marine aquarium trade. One of the goals of those explorations has been to provide a window through which aquarists can view a side of the trade that is typically at best out-of-sight-out-of-mind and at worst intentionally less than transparent given the unsustainable and illegal practices that continue to dominate the collection-side of the industry. While I’m professionally interested in the big picture at the confluence of fisheries, science, socio-economic development, and conservation, it has always been my personal hope as an aquarist that a better understanding of where the majority of marine aquarium animals originate would lead to some aquarists using their purchasing power to support a sustainable, equitable and legal trade. To me, it is not at all unlike what commonly happens now with coffee, lumber products and seafood—industries that, while not without their issues, have all found a market share interested in seeing sustainability and fair trade front and center. While some aquarists have responded to the often unpleasant realities of marine aquarium fisheries in source countries like Indonesia and Philippines by advocating a trade dependent almost wholly on captive bred animals (much like the freshwater trade is), some of my most profound experiences throughout the smaller developing island nations of the Indo-Pacific have led me to believe reducing the trade’s connection to the people and reefs of the region would be a very great loss from both an environmental and socio-economic perspective.
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