According to state officials, Hawaii is currently seeking a solution against major coral bleaching, and will be working on a crisis management plan in order to tackle this problem.
The Hawaiian Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) has announced on November 16 that it felt compelled to address the issue of coral bleaching, which is at record-breaking levels in some regions of the archipelago.
As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has announced in October, we are currently facing the third ever global coral bleaching event.
In this process, corals, which normally rely on symbiotic algae for their sustenance, react to excessively high water temperatures by banishing their algae, therefore remaining without nutrients and starving themselves to death.
However, controversy has been stirred among environmental protection groups, because of a claim made by Dr. Bruce Anderson, administrator for the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR).
He has insisted that in order to combat coral bleaching there is no need to regulate the process of aquarium fishery, through which marine animals are extracted from the water, in order to be sold to private and public aquarium owners.
Nowadays, the 50th state is the most significant source contributing to the aquarium collection trade across the United States. Several hundreds of thousands of fish are taken away from the Central Pacific Ocean, around the Big Island, in order to be commercialized in pet stores, and approximately 70% of them originate from the Kona coast.
The aquarium industry has boomed significantly since the year 2000, the number of marine animals being caught in the area increasing by 22%, as the economic value corresponding to this type of fishing has soared by 45%.
In response to this growing pressure on the ecosystem, representatives of the Environmental Council and the Office of Environmental Quality Control, as well as 16 animal welfare groups had insisted that its high time a moratorium was imposed in order to limit the extent of aquarium trade in Hawaii.
Now it appears that there is significant reluctance from authorities to introduce such a ban. In their opinion, tropical fish collecting is undertaken mostly in West Hawaii, and doesn’t actually affect coral reefs by a significant degree.
The only fish which influence the corals’ well-being are scraping and excavating herbivores such as the parrot fish, which graze on microscopic organisms, cleaning the reef and therefore preventing algae from smothering it.
However, as DLNR Chair Suzanne Case explains, aquarium collectors don’t take this species of fish from the ocean, the number of parrotfish being caught for this purpose amounting to just 5 per year.
Other marine animals are preferred for fish keeping, but 92% of the population of these herbivorous species has actually been increasing in recent years.
Igna Gibson, director of Hawaii’s Humane Society, believes that the focus shouldn’t be placed solely on parrotfish, and that other species are also essential to for the coral reef’s survival. As she argued, Yellow Tangs, which also help regulate algae growth, are hugely popular as aquarium fish, and their number has been declining by 90%.
Therefore, a moratorium, even for a short period (6 months, for instance) might allow researchers to understand if by protecting these fish species it might be possible to rejuvenate reefs and curb the effects of coral bleaching, triggered by global warming.
After all, as Gibson pointed out, a similar interdiction has been place on the removal of sea cucumbers, in order to allow them to recover, and their population hadn’t been as threatened as some aquarium fish currently are.
State officials however remain firm in their decision to focus on other factors instead of the ornamental fish trade. Their purpose is to enact their crisis management plan by the end of next year, so that they can address the impact of El Nino and climate change, which are allegedly more obvious disrupters when it comes to coral health.
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