Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Breeding Program Takes Pressure off Coral Reefs

A breeding program for prized saltwater aquarium fish and crustaceans is expected to take the pressure off the coral reef populations that supply the rapidly expanding multi-billion dollar aquarium industry.

Developing nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines provide the bulk of the supply but have little effective control over their collection, with chemicals such as cyanide often used to stun fish so they can be captured, and coral reefs destroyed to scare them into the open.

Breeding and raising marine ornamentals is notoriously difficult, but a combination of confidential techniques had enabled A/Prof Chaoshu Zeng of James Cook University to raise more than 20 marine ornamental species, including the harlequin anemone crab, the dot-dash lined cleaner shrimp (which can retail for $100 each), the coral sea lyretail blenny and the chocolate goby fish.

Zeng said the team had also recently successfully raised fire or blood shrimp for the first time in Australia, with the best survival and quickest larval settlement in the world. The crustacean is a much sought-after variety that can be sold for nearly $300 each in Australia.

He said they also had much success with the colourful green mandarin dragonet fish, achieving the highest survival rate of captive-bred examples of the species in the world. “We did it with detailed, systematic research which ensures repeatability of results,” he said. “Others may be able to breed some species, but they are often not able to repeat the success.”

Zeng said the project was on the verge of commercial viability.