Each year an estimated 30 to 60 million coral reef fish are removed from tropical reefs and shipped halfway around the world for ornamental display in the United States and Europe. Along the way, many die. Their perilous journey takes them from their coral reef home to a diver’s net, to a boat, to a holding facility, to a jet plane, to an importer’s warehouse, then to a retail store. They make this trip largely in plastic baggies and boxes, the water replaced every few days to replenish oxygen and remove built-up waste.
Not surprisingly, the dirty water and stress take their toll. So to make up for the fish that die, divers take even more from the reef.
it’s not just fish populations that get destroyed. Coral reefs are structures produced by living organisms in oceans. The primary organisms typically are stony corals that secrete an exoskeleton of calcium carbonate, creating a reef that supports the corals and a huge variety of other animal and plant life. Divers often squirt cyanide into reefs to stun fish, making them easier to catch. Cyanide typically doesn’t kill the fish outright, but it does kill corals and other life on the reef. Divers also pry corals apart to find fish hiding in crevices, destroying a reef structure that took decades or centuries to build.
The good news and the bad is that this destruction is driven largely by demand in the United States and Europe. Because we created most of the demand, we can also change it.