What's killing Hawaii's coral reefs? Aquariums, say some experts

The 50th state has announced the aquarium fishery trade can continue without further regulation, despite pleas from organizations and agencies to curb aquarium collecting for the reefs' sake. 

Caleb Jones/AP
In this Oct. 26, 2015 file photo, fish swim over a patch of bleached coral in Hawaii’s Kaneohe Bay off the island of Oahu. State officials are outlining a management plan for Hawaii's coral reefs, which have suffered a second consecutive year of damaging bleaching. Experts are worried continued stress could kill portions of the reef which are critical parts of the ecosystem and the state's tourist economy.

In November, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources confirmed an upcoming comprehensive coral reef management plan, in an effort to combat the extensive bleaching of Hawaii’s reefs.

But two state agencies, 16 environmental groups, and the majority of Hawaii’s residents feel the plan is pointless because it intentionally ignores a crucial aspect of reef management: the aquarium fishery. 

Hawaii is the biggest provider of fish for the US aquarium trade, with hundreds of thousands of fish shipped to the mainland to be sold in pet stores. Seventy percent of aquarium fish caught statewide come from the Kona coast. The amount of fish caught in the aquarium collection trade is almost twice as many animals caught in Hawaii in subsistence, recreational, and food fisheries combined.

“We have a lot of in-depth monitoring going on,” William Walsh, an aquatic biologist with the state, tells The Associated Press. “Banning aquarium collecting would have zero effect.”

But the State Office of Environmental Quality Control and members of the state Environmental Council issued a letter to Gov. David Ige and Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) Chair Suzanne Case last month asking for an emergency moratorium on the collection of reef wildlife for aquariums because of unprecedented coral bleaching in Hawaii.

And while details of the management plan have yet to be published, officials said Monday they will not impose an emergency moratorium on fishing for aquarium collection. 

“It’s very irresponsible and it's very short sighted,” Igna Gibson, the Hawaii state director of the Humane Society, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview Tuesday. “The number one thing that coral reef managers must do during these types of natural disasters is protect the herbivores. They keep reefs free of algae, which exacerbates bleaching.” 

Multiple calls to Hawaii's DLNR were not returned.

Critics of the moratorium request say it only serves animal welfare objectives and had nothing to do with coral bleaching. 

“You can’t reason with that. It’s a moral position,” Matt Ross, an aquarium fish collector on the island of Oahu, tells the Honolulu Civil Beat. “As a fisherman and someone who really does care about conservation, it’s really frustrating.” 

But Ms. Gibson argues moratorium supporters really are just thinking about the reefs. 

“This is not an animal welfare issue,” she tells The Monitor, “This bleaching event means the state needs to take all necessary steps to protect the reefs. A six-month moratorium would let us get much more information, and finally do an environmental assessment [on the aquarium fish trade] which has never been done in its 50-year history.” 

She adds, “No one is saying that the aquarium trade is causing bleaching. Bleaching has to do with ocean temperature rise, so we have to take all the other steps we can to protect our reefs.”

In a recent DLNR press release, Ms. Case confirmed that herbivores, which make up 92 percent of the aquarium catch, have increased in Hawaii waters and collectors catch only five parrotfish each year.

Ms. Gibson does not disagree, but she says these statistics are irrelevant. She says the state fails to add that population growth is only evident in protected areas, whereas the population of popular Yellow Tangs, for example, are down 90 percent.

“We don’t dispute that parrotfish are important. But why would the state exclude all these other kinds of fish that are being taken?” she asks. “We need to look at all herbivores, they are all algae eaters and they are all apart of a larger ecosystem.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to What's killing Hawaii's coral reefs? Aquariums, say some experts
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today