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TonyInVa

How does WAMAS and our hobby help or help the eco system?

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I had posted some pictures in a forum for a camera owners group. It is an under water camera group. I got many likes and a couple sad faces. Most of the people are divers and one who made a frown was a conservationist. I know we aquaculture and if need be, buy from reputable sources. How do you explain to a person who sees reef keeping as a negative.

 

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As an engineer, all of my decisions are based on technical, verifiable data and evidence. However, as I've read about the Hawaii ban, it seems as though there is a percentage of the population who will come to their own conclusions - despite the evidence stating the exact opposite. Evidence gathered from over 30 years of tracking fish populations have proven that due to creating "no take" zones for fish, and managing the resource carefully, populations of reef fish are actually increasing.  Even still, there are many in Hawaii who believe taking fish from the ocean for our tanks is terrible, wasteful, and depletes the reef. This is paralleled with hunting deer (or other animals, but I'll focus on deer): Hunting deer for consuming meat must be awful, right? However, hunters contribute the majority of conservation money to states to provide habitat, help with accurate herd count, manage disease, and educate about wildlife management. But, many still think it's bad.

 

In short, you're fighting a loosing battle. In emotionally charged topics such as what you're describing (getting into a discussion about reef aquariums with a conversationalist), I highly doubt, unfortunately, that anything you say/do will bring about a change in their preconceived notions about this hobby, and what it does/doesn't do to our oceans.

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I'm a bit of an unusual example, but my saltwater tanks are in my classroom. I teach Marine Science and we don't live close enough to the ocean to reasonably go on trips; so the only way students get any kind of hands on experience with Marine Science is through my tanks. It also opens the door to discuss the issue of how the hobby effects the environment, what we can do to reduce our impact, etc. It allows students to be more aware and invested in an environment that some of them may never visit, but can still impact.

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Reefkeeping promotes understanding. Many reefers understand the difference between wild-caught/harvested, and sustainable harvest and catch practices. Because of this, they probably understand (or are exposed to) more than the average person about threats to the tropical ecosystem, chain-of-custody, and economic benefits to small island nations, and are teachers/ambassadors to others.

 

Many concepts used reef-restoration and conservation today are based in knowledge and understanding developed in the hobby by hobbyists and by professionals that are also hobbyists or that interact with hobbyists. 

 

I agree with Bues0022 that this is an emotionally-charged topic for some people rather than being based in science or rooted in unbiased evidence. Some people won't be swayed or respect other viewpoints. That's life. 

 

Not all reefers, though, are conservation-minded, though. There's a balance between thoughtful mistakes and being avoidably wasteful. It doesn't take many of the latter to cast a dark shadow over the hobby that becomes the primary focus of various factions. As a community, we need to call out these behaviors, work to improve awareness, and to make better options known.

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A 2008 NOAA report estimated that 90% of the 11 million tropical fish that enter the U.S. each year are caught using cyanide. Yes, it's illegal, but it's still a major problem. We all also generally accept, either explicitly or implicitly, that a significant percent of fish and corals harvested for the aquarium trade die within the first couple of months of capture, either during capture, transport, or due to disease. We also accept that the industry allows for the death of a large percent of otherwise healthy fish and coral that do make it through the capture process and end up in inadequate setups. I doubt there are many among us who haven't killed many fish due to human error. It's just part of the hobby. We can acknowledge the harm and not pretend that we're helping much of anything (aside from, for example, the guy with the classroom tanks). We do it because it's interesting, and corals and saltwater fish are beautiful.

 

Comparing reefkeeping to hunting is also pretty misleading. Unless you're talking about specific situations where a fish is harming an ecosystem and needs to be controlled (lionfish, etc), it's much more likely that the collection is harming the underlying ecosystem. Hobbyists also aren't contributing nearly the same amount of money for conservation via licensing, and we continue to support some pretty awful practices by continuing to purchase wild-caught fish from parts of the world where we know the harvesters are doing harm. I understand the analogy, but the few reserves are a drop in the bucket.

 

The one saving grace of the reefkeeping hobby are the successful captive-breeding and coral propagation programs. It's nice to know that that vast majority of clownfish sold are captive-bred. Hopefully soon that will be the case with tangs and other highly desirable fish. There's also been some nice progress made in reintroducing corals to reefs that were propagated elsewhere.

 

I guess to answer your question, there isn't a very good answer unless you solely purchase captive-bred fish and corals from vendors you know treat their fish humanely. I have a tangaroa goby and a number of shrimp, so that wouldn't be me.

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1 hour ago, rt502 said:

A 2008 NOAA report estimated that 90% of the 11 million tropical fish that enter the U.S. each year are caught using cyanide.

 

Can you link to that report? In 2008, there was a National Geographic article that cited the 90% figure, but when you chased down the reference they called out, the figure was 70%. Not that this is such a great number. However, even that number was based on an old study from earlier in that decade.


In this report from NOAA dated 2008, the figures are lower. Quotes include: 

 

"The International Marinelife Alliance (IMA) created six CDT laboratories and tested over 48,000 specimens under contract to the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) from 1993 to 2001. BFAR has continued to conduct cyanide testing using the ISE method on a more limited scale since 2001. Cyanide testing by the IMA for BFAR, in combination with other initiatives, led to a sharp reduction in fish testing positive for cyanide over the period 1996 to 1999. "

 

"However, at present only one Cyanide Detection Testing (CDT) laboratory remains operational full-time due to funding shortfalls and other issues, and cyanide use has subsequently increased. Testing done by the Puerto Princesa, Palawan laboratory found that 49% of the fish specimens tested in 2004 had cyanide present (Rubec, personal comm.). "

 

Then, in 2016, Reefs.com wrote something up on that same citation  here in an article titled, "National Geographic Checks Facts at the Door. " Quotes from that include, 

 

"If we look at a NOAA report for actual data, we find this, “The Marine Aquarium Council website reports that the International Marinelife Alliance (IMA) tested 48,000 fish in the Philippines to find that 25% of aquarium fish destined for the United States and Europe, and 44% of live groupers and humphead wrasse going to Hong Kong, were caught using cyanide.”

 

And adds,

 

"It may be safe to assume that cyanide collection in the Philippines dropped from 70% in 1997, down to 25% in 2008. Then why is National Geographic reporting that 90% of all marine aquarium fish are collected using cyanide? Let’s look at another claim made in the article, “98% – almost all – [marine] aquarium fish cannot be captive bred.” According to the earlier reports the writer used to compile estimates, the trade size was estimated at 1,400 species. National Geographic states that the marine livestock trade today, makes up about 1,800 species. Current information suggests that about 300 species of marine fish are being bred in captivity. Easy math, which divides 300/1800, shows that 17% of the species available to marine aquarists can be captive bred. While it’s wonderful that organizations are striving to improve that, 17% is a lot different than 2%."

 

My point is, this has long been on the hobby's radar and significant improvement was noted in a relatively short period of time because of that added awareness. I'd really like to see updated numbers, but I don't know if anybody's got the resources to study the problem again on a large scale now. What I'd really like to see is that number drop to zero....

 

 

 

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I frag probably 300 home grown acropora per year for Wamas. Now calculate all the sharing from all the members and we put a huge dent in the amount of acros that have to be imported For hobbiest use. A local frag swap I bet 1000s of home grown go out.  Until acropora/LPS are completely banned from import we are helping out. More corals left in the ocean=more cover for the fish = healthier reefs and increased fish #s.  I would have lost everything by now had someone not told me about Wamas and I can’t tell you how many times I was able to acquire a tool locally that broke or helped until I was able to buy one. The knowledge of how to treat a reef and what sunscreen to wear while snorkeling or beach going. The fish death in the hobby is a bummer but they are working on captive bred. Now that I am over the flashy fish and tangs I try to just buy captive bred. My 2cents

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15 minutes ago, gmerek2 said:

I frag probably 300 home grown acropora per year for Wamas. Now calculate all the sharing from all the members and we put a huge dent in the amount of acros that have to be imported For hobbiest use. A local frag swap I bet 1000s of home grown go out.  Until acropora/LPS are completely banned from import we are helping out. More corals left in the ocean=more cover for the fish = healthier reefs and increased fish #s.  I would have lost everything by now had someone not told me about Wamas and I can’t tell you how many times I was able to acquire a tool locally that broke or helped until I was able to buy one. The knowledge of how to treat a reef and what sunscreen to wear while snorkeling or beach going. The fish death in the hobby is a bummer but they are working on captive bred. Now that I am over the flashy fish and tangs I try to just buy captive bred. My 2cents

 

Not to mention the redistribution of captive breeding snails ;) 

 

All the student scholarships, and grants, and donations. 

 

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Origami, you're right. 90% was on the high side in the study, and by all accounts it's much better now. On the whole, the hobby of keeping reef fish and corals is probably bad for the ecosystems from which they're collected, at least up to now. It's pretty inarguable. That said, If we reach a point where 95%+ of the fish and corals for sale are captive-bred, the hobby probably would be net neutral or even positive, if propagation and reintroduction efforts continue to grow. I just think it's disingenuous for most to argue that what we as hobbyists are doing is intrinsically good, given the industry we support. Again, I'm as guilty as anyone else, but I'm not trying to justify it as anything other than a hobby I keep because I enjoy keeping the beautiful ecosystems in my home. No different than someone who eats meat just accepting that the majority of meat production is bad for the environment (I eat meat).

 

As far as the club itself, as others have pointed out, it's the exception. Most people in this forum are familiar with everything discussed and seem to make it a point to try and make the ethical choice when possible. As Gmerek also pointed out, it also keeps the propagation in-house for the most part and keeps corals in the ocean by satiating our desire for the awesome corals available, and also provides info for new reefkeepers so that they don't make the same mistakes we all did. 

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These are some really good points. I feel that education is very important. It is important on many levels. For example when snorkeling, using proper sunscreen or better yet non at all, preferably short fins or none, do not touch or handle livestock and not standing on live rock or coral. There is a resort my wife and I go to that is famous for Sea Turtles coming to the beach and laying eggs. There is an Ecological group that tours the beach several times a day. They allow you to volunteer and tour with them and educate people on turtle conservation. I feel if the conservationist were educated what step reef keeping hobbyist took, they may feel differently.

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1 hour ago, rt502 said:

Origami, you're right. 90% was on the high side in the study, and by all accounts it's much better now. On the whole, the hobby of keeping reef fish and corals is probably bad for the ecosystems from which they're collected, at least up to now. It's pretty inarguable. That said, If we reach a point where 95%+ of the fish and corals for sale are captive-bred, the hobby probably would be net neutral or even positive, if propagation and reintroduction efforts continue to grow. I just think it's disingenuous for most to argue that what we as hobbyists are doing is intrinsically good, given the industry we support. Again, I'm as guilty as anyone else, but I'm not trying to justify it as anything other than a hobby I keep because I enjoy keeping the beautiful ecosystems in my home. No different than someone who eats meat just accepting that the majority of meat production is bad for the environment (I eat meat).

 

As far as the club itself, as others have pointed out, it's the exception. Most people in this forum are familiar with everything discussed and seem to make it a point to try and make the ethical choice when possible. As Gmerek also pointed out, it also keeps the propagation in-house for the most part and keeps corals in the ocean by satiating our desire for the awesome corals available, and also provides info for new reefkeepers so that they don't make the same mistakes we all did. 

 

Saying "is probably bad for the ecosystems" is subjective opinion. There are many studies, for example, in Hawaii - which admittedly had/has one of the best managed fisheries in the world), where collection and conservation practices have been shown to be sustainable and even beneficial overall (when areas are set aside for conservation/breeding zones). Hobbyists are consumers, no doubt, and that has an impact. But the economic benefit can, with proper regulation, lead to incentives to protect and preserve the source of that benefit. 

 

Much of Hawaii's recent legislative changes have been contrary to the scientific evidence provided and, instead, resulted from years and years of passionate, emotional assault and incomplete presentation of data (when data was even offered). 

 

Now, I've been in the hobby long enough to see the issue of cyanide collection techniques being exposed and to see the reefing community discuss how it could help eliminate such practices by being more educated consumers. (This is not just WAMAS, it was a topic of discussion in national and international forums.) It did, as studies showed, have an effect as cyanide-exposed ornamentals coming into the US drastically fell off after awareness was raised. You can see that because, once the numbers had dropped in the US for the ornamentals, nearly twice the percentage food-fish (groupers) bound for foreign ports tested positive for cyanide exposure.  That evidenced a change in the US market. It's possible, but apparently not evidenced yet with newer studies, that its use has risen again. But, if it has, it could be due to a lack of oversight (testing) and enforcement, or because people have forgotten about it or have not been educated about it. WIth so many new people coming into the hobby, the latter is a distinct possibility. It remains an illegal means of collection in much of the world today (including the Philippines where it was more prevalent back in the day). For a while there, our hopes were raised that a test was soon-to-come that detected traces of cyanide in a fish's slimecoat. That would have been a game-changer as it would allow importers to turn away shipments that were illegally collected and, therefore, change collection techniques. However, that test didn't pan out. 

 

It might be good if this issue regained prominence again and spur additional research that could lead to an econmically viable way of detecting cyanide exposure in marine ornamentals.

 

 


 

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Here's a thread where we discussed the Hawaii ban with, among all people, one of the principals behind the lawsuit that was ultimate successful in securing a moratorium on the issuance of collection permits in Hawaii, Rene Umberger from For the Fishes (an advocacy group). In it, there's a very worthwhile video (from the opposition) that I'll re-link here. There are also links to scientific papers showing evidence that Hawaii's collection practices were working.  

 

I'm not saying that globally practices are well regulated or environmentally sound. I am saying that it is possible to be both well regulated and environmentally sound, while still permitting sustainable collection. Our being more aware of collection practices and the supply chain risks is something that most of us are not thinking about when we enter the hobby, but it's one that we, as more seasoned members, should strive to pass down quite a bit more than we do.

 

 

 

The tank one minute into the video belongs to WAMAS members, Bob and Tamie DeWitt. 10:33 in is one of John Coppolino's display tanks in Leesburg.

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On 12/18/2018 at 2:16 PM, rt502 said:

Comparing reefkeeping to hunting is also pretty misleading.

 

I was not attempting to paint a broad stroke saying they were both equal - merely pointing out the similarities between one very specific example (Hawaii) where those who are engaged in the salt water aquarium hobby/industry are making a significant, and noticeable difference in the knowledge and health of the ecosystem which is in discussion. 

 

Tom has done a better job of posting links and explaining the status (as depressing as it may because of "mob rule" and political whims overtaking actual science).

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I agree with Origami that regulated and environmentally sound collection practices are possible. That said, the industry probably isn't set up to support it on a global scale. Maybe that will change, but the incentive structure for collection still encourages destructive collection methods throughout most of the world. Hawaii is in the unique position of being regulated by the US government, whereas a large number of the other countries that collect and ship ornamental fish are developing. The most problematic regions from which fish are collected are still the largest exporters of ornamental marine fish (Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, etc), and the passage and enforcement of ornamental fish collection regulations is pretty low on their priority list, and wholesalers and marine shops are incentivized to purchase from them. It's difficult to find data on, for example, the percent of fish that are killed in collection and transport, but the WWF estimated the number to be roughly 80% (Scientific American article linked at the bottom of the page), which is insane, and not subjective. That's not counting those fish that die within months due to disease or negligence, or the impact that removing those fish has on the collection areas (that's not counting corals). Until the cost to someone along the supply chain is so egregious that it changes the incentives and behavior of the collectors, wholesalers, aquarium shops, and consumers, the hobby as a whole will continue to exist on a morally gray line. I'm sure others will vehemently disagree.

 

I understand the very specific Hawaii example. It's a great model that will hopefully spread and be sustainable. In the future, it's possible that the ornamental marine hobby will be sustainable and good for the environment, but there's a very long way to go before we can start to argue that it's beneficial on the whole. There are pockets of the hobby that are doing wonderful things, as discussed re. Hawaii/captive-breeding/coral propagation, and hopefully they'll spread, but the relatively low cost of fish/corals for those in this club that care about environmental health is driven by the vast majority that don't. The marine ornamental hobby will exist whether we have those people trying to improve it or not, so I'm glad we have groups like Wamas to at least try to plant the seeds for the future.

 

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/tropical-depression-your-saltwater-fish-tank-may-be-killing-the-ocean/

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2 hours ago, rt502 said:

I agree with Origami that regulated and environmentally sound collection practices are possible. That said, the industry probably isn't set up to support it on a global scale. Maybe that will change, but the incentive structure for collection still encourages destructive collection methods throughout most of the world. Hawaii is in the unique position of being regulated by the US government, whereas a large number of the other countries that collect and ship ornamental fish are developing. The most problematic regions from which fish are collected are still the largest exporters of ornamental marine fish (Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, etc), and the passage and enforcement of ornamental fish collection regulations is pretty low on their priority list, and wholesalers and marine shops are incentivized to purchase from them. It's difficult to find data on, for example, the percent of fish that are killed in collection and transport, but the WWF estimated the number to be roughly 80% (Scientific American article linked at the bottom of the page), which is insane, and not subjective. That's not counting those fish that die within months due to disease or negligence, or the impact that removing those fish has on the collection areas (that's not counting corals). Until the cost to someone along the supply chain is so egregious that it changes the incentives and behavior of the collectors, wholesalers, aquarium shops, and consumers, the hobby as a whole will continue to exist on a morally gray line. I'm sure others will vehemently disagree.

 

I understand the very specific Hawaii example. It's a great model that will hopefully spread and be sustainable. In the future, it's possible that the ornamental marine hobby will be sustainable and good for the environment, but there's a very long way to go before we can start to argue that it's beneficial on the whole. There are pockets of the hobby that are doing wonderful things, as discussed re. Hawaii/captive-breeding/coral propagation, and hopefully they'll spread, but the relatively low cost of fish/corals for those in this club that care about environmental health is driven by the vast majority that don't. The marine ornamental hobby will exist whether we have those people trying to improve it or not, so I'm glad we have groups like Wamas to at least try to plant the seeds for the future.

 

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/tropical-depression-your-saltwater-fish-tank-may-be-killing-the-ocean/

 

The problem with the (2005) Scientific American article, though, is that 1) It cites no references or data and 2) It only makes a broad, unsupported statement, "estimates suggest that 70 to 90 percent of captured fish die before they ever reach a tank." Again, if it's not referencing data but is referencing articles of that time that cited erroneous and misleading statistics, it's no better than those sources.
 

I agree that there's much room for improvement in the industry from collection to consumer. I've commented on this before. In a lot of the places that you cited, relevant laws exist, however, the resources are not there to enforce them adequately.

 

Another initiative that you might find interesting is the ADE (Aquaculture Development for the Environment) out of Fiji. In that area, it's not collection of marine ornamentals that have destroyed the reef. It's overfishing for food-fish that's led to coral habitat destruction and a subsequent decline in the population of reef fishes. The ADE project seeks to teach local governments (who control the waters) how to propagate and restore the reefs so that the fish come back, and creating a sustainable and balanced approach to resource management while deriving economic benefit.

 

1 hour ago, rt502 said:

Also, that video you posted is great.

Courtesy of Dr. Bruce Carlson, former Director of the Waikiki Aquarium and former Chief Scientist and Designer of the Georgia Aquarium..

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Search youtube for "indonesian coral farms". How many indoor coral farms are there in the US? I would ignore ten year old reports. Sustainable tanks are possible.

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Another engineer here, and the data I've seen has not convinced me that we're causing substantial damage (especially compared to just nature in general).

After being in the hobby for 12 years, I've seen major improvements too.

- Substantial knowledge about the life cycle of acropora eating nudibranchs, red bugs, montipora eating nudibranchs, and other pests.

- Sustainable practices increased, to include captive breeding

- Better foods for fish breeding

- Increased awareness of ethical imports

- Proliferation of captive-grown coral

- And my personal experience that is probably similar to others...

I started this hobby because I saw a pretty tank. Yup, I killed a lot when I first got started (and sometimes unfortunately still do). Then I started scuba diving. So far, I'd like to think I've contributed more than the damage I've caused.

I ran a coral and fish rescue for four years where I took in sick/dying/unwanted animals.  The number of corals saved was in the hundreds, and I kept a website showing how to help deal with all the issues I was finding. Lots of other people started doing the same.
Then I started doing underwater cleanups. My favorite was helping a tiny island off Honduras. They had nowhere to dispose of trash except in the ocean. Our team went in, and while a team cleaned above, we removed trash underwater. 
Then my husband started spearfishing lionfish and has competed in competitions. Sure, it doesn't make up for someone introducing lionfish in unnatural areas, but we are sure trying.
That's all from just seeing a pretty tank in a store. Obviously some people will contribute more while others are a detriment. But I think this hobby is moving in the right direction. Yeah, we've made some dumb mistakes, but that's how we learn. 



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Another engineer here, and the data I've seen has not convinced me that we're causing substantial damage (especially compared to just nature in general).

After being in the hobby for 12 years, I've seen major improvements too.

- Substantial knowledge about the life cycle of acropora eating nudibranchs, red bugs, montipora eating nudibranchs, and other pests.

- Sustainable practices increased, to include captive breeding

- Better foods for fish breeding

- Increased awareness of ethical imports

- Proliferation of captive-grown coral

- And my personal experience that is probably similar to others...

I started this hobby because I saw a pretty tank. Yup, I killed a lot when I first got started (and sometimes unfortunately still do). Then I started scuba diving. So far, I'd like to think I've contributed more than the damage I've caused.

I ran a coral and fish rescue for four years where I took in sick/dying/unwanted animals.  The number of corals saved was in the hundreds, and I kept a website showing how to help deal with all the issues I was finding. Lots of other people started doing the same.
Then I started doing underwater cleanups. My favorite was helping a tiny island off Honduras. They had nowhere to dispose of trash except in the ocean. Our team went in, and while a team cleaned above, we removed trash underwater. 
Then my husband started spearfishing lionfish and has competed in competitions. Sure, it doesn't make up for someone introducing lionfish in unnatural areas, but we are sure trying.
That's all from just seeing a pretty tank in a store. Obviously some people will contribute more while others are a detriment. But I think this hobby is moving in the right direction. Yeah, we've made some dumb mistakes, but that's how we learn. 



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Excellent post. Thank you both for your thoughts and your volunteer efforts.

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Lots of good posts and thoughts here.

 

I'll directly answer the OP:

On 12/18/2018 at 8:06 AM, TonyInVa said:

How do you explain to a person who sees reef keeping as a negative.

 

If I wanted to entertain those folks arguments, I'd ask them if they could differentiate between an Acropora, Montipora, Pocillopora or Sinulara - without google or a guide book.  Have they grown any of those species?  When they failed, why did they fail, and what did they try to do better?   What could cause that kind of failure on at least a part of an island's coral reefs? What could be done to stop such failure on an island or larger basis?

Edited by KingOfAll_Tyrants

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When I was in Raja Ampat last March I heard the same criticism about the aquarium trade from divers. I explained that there were numerous coral farms right there in Indonesia.

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