May 25, 2008

New fad: exotic marine aquarium pets

Today, there is an article highlighting the fad for exotic marine creatures in home aquariums.

Aqua wonders
They suck, they sting, they even bite, but people are filling their aquariums with these exotic marine creatures
Tan Yi Hui, Straits Times 25 May 08;
full article on wildsingapore news

Some fish collectors are now hooked on more exotic marine creatures - the type you would more usually see on your dinner plate than bobbing around your neighbour's aquarium.

Hermit crabs, seahorses and shrimps are some of the novelty creatures now making a splash as pets.

A few fish fanatics have even taken the plunge and are pampering stingrays.


Mr Conrad Chua, 37, founder of the Singapore Reef Club - a popular 11,000-member online forum for marine aquarium enthusiasts - says keeping exotic marine species 'is a rising trend', although it's still a niche group.


Jireh sells seahorses from 8 to 10cm in size for $35 each, and has about a dozen buyers in a week. This is up from only one a month, half a year ago. Their seahorses are tank-raised, not caught at sea.


Student Phuah Chee Chong, 19, used to keep cuttlefish and octopuses, but they either died because of his inexperience in tending them, or because of short life-spans - cuttlefish live for only about a year.

After lengthy coverage of the fads, there is brief mention of the possible negative impacts
But if you're thinking of taking the plunge into exotic water wonders, owners such as Ms Yap caution: 'You have to realise that there is a lot of research to do. It's for people who are more patient. It's not like fish where a lot of information is readily available.'

Mr Henry Ko, 55, owner of aquarium shop MarineLife at Hong Leong Garden Shopping Centre, sums it up: 'Don't buy on impulse. Such organisms are hard to get.

'When you bring them back and can't sustain them, it's a shame.'


Mr Goh and Mr Poon buy their rays from fellow hobbyists. The sale of rays in shops is banned, but not among private enthusiasts, even though industry regulator the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) discourages it.

Some ray-keepers sell surplus pets to others, rather than throw them back to nature. Athough rays are a foreign species, they are capable of adapting and breeding here. Indeed, The Straits Times reported last year that rays have been found in Singapore reservoirs.

Releasing animals into the wild is illegal and offenders can be fined up to $50,000, jailed up to six months, or both.

There is also a list of what to do to keep these animals in home aquariums: rays, freshwater shrimps, seahorses, octopus and cuttlefish, hermit crabs.

Having seen these marvellous creatures living free and naturally on our living shores, I am quite disturbed to think of them kept in a tank simply for personal pleasure without benefit to the environment or science.

Some issues raised by this fad:

How were the specimens captured? Many marine creatures are caught with cyanide which not only leads to mortality rate of the targeted specimens but also death of untargeted marine life and hard corals. Over-collection of marine creatures to support fads can wipe out the targeted species in the wild.

Is there such a thing as captive-bred seahorses? Some so-called captive bred seahorses are actually derived from wild-caught pregnant fathers. Seahorses are threatened by over-collection for the traditional medicine trade and the live aquarium trade.

Impact of releasing aquatic life? Released pets may die a painful death. Especially if uninformed people release them into the wrong habitat (freshwater creatures in the sea and visa versa). Released exotics in our freshwater habitats puts severe pressure on our native wildlife. This is why there are AVA rules on exotics. Release to the marine habitat may have similar effects. Here's a more detailed recent discussion of the issues on the lazy lizard blog.

I am sure readers will have other issues to highlight on this matter.


dsowerg said...

A particular squid was mentioned in the same article, along with the gloomy observation that they seldom live beyond six months in the aquarium. Now I have no idea what a squid's expected lifespan in the wild is, although my guess is, probably longer than six months. I just find it quite surprising that people would still want to keep these sea creatures in an aquarium when there are obvious indications that these creatures probably cannot survive in such artificially created habitats!

Anonymous said...

Went to the aquarium shops@Pasir Ris Farmway today.

Gosh! I almost fainted when I saw a tank full of nudibranch. All kinds!....including Spanish Dancers! From their size, my guess is that they might be caught from the wild cos there's absolute no nudi's foods in that tank! Poor things are going to be starved to death! (maybe the Gymnodoris will last a bit longer with all other nudi around)

In each tank, you alway get to see a few dead fishes. There was a tank that has frogfishes, sand dollars, common seastars and a blue-spotted Stingray together!

Just can't imagine to get all these marine creatures, how many others were killed in the process and the terrible effects to the reefs!!! :o(

Sam said...

it was a very disturbing article...and made worst now by what Chay Hoon has discovered....surely AVA can do something considering that...nudribranchs, sea horses and the like are not easy to breed( is it even possible?)