Marine Ornamental Species and Live RockAlligators | Aquatic Plants | Crustaceans | Food Fish | Miscellaneous Species
Molluscs | Marine Ornamental | Ornamental Fish and Invertebrates
Estimates are that 1.5-2 million households worldwide keep marine aquaria (approximately 800,000 in the United States ). The global wholesale trade in marine species for aquaria amounts to $200-330 million and includes fish, corals, sponges, anemones, molluscs, crustaceans and live rock. The annual, global marine ornamental fish trade is estimated to be 40 million specimens. Approximately 1,500 marine ornamental fish species, 500 invertebrate species, and 200 coral species are wild-caught or farmed and sold into the trade.
Most of the wild caught species are associated with reef systems because the majority of pelagic species are unsuited to life in small to medium aquaria. Due to advances in aquarium keeping, "mini-reef" aquariums are now possible and are one of the fastest growing components of the hobby. In comparison to freshwater fish tanks, mini-reef aquariums require live rock and sand and a variety of reef invertebrates to properly function as captive ecosystems. All of these factors have energized efforts to culture ornamental marine species for the aquarium trade. Only about 40 of the species currently traded can be farm raised and are commercially available. Cultured fish account for one to two percent of the global trade.
Enterprising Florida farmers have been commercially raising clownfish since the early 1970s. Three facilities were dedicated to the culture of marine tropicals with emphasis on clownfish. Currently, a variety of marine species (gobies, dottybacks, sergeant majors, queen triggerfish, angelfish, seahorses, and ornamental shrimp) are being investigated or produced on a limited scale. Rapid growth in the production of marine tropicals is hampered by a lack of information related to life history, culture techniques, nutrition, health management and economic analysis. Recent advances in marine food fish aquaculture, specifically in hatching and larval rearing of small marine eggs and larvae, may create an opportunity for an increase in the species which can successfully be cultured on farms.
In addition to colorful and exotic marine reef fish, hobbyists are also interested in a wide variety of crustaceans, corals, and molluscs. Various ornamental shrimp (golden banded coral, fire, Caribbean anemone, clown anemone and peppermint), molluscs (queen conch, Florida fighting conch, giant clams ( Tridacna spp)) and other invertebrates (feather duster worm) are prime candidates for aquaculture. Immediate production and distribution of these species is slowed by work needed to resolve larval survival or regulatory conflicts.
Land-based aquaculture of corals, both hard and soft corals, is another emerging segment of marine ornamental production. Most production involves taking "cuttings" or fragments of parent colonies and allowing them to grow to market size. Regulations surrounding harvest, possession, and sale of native Atlantic and Caribbean hard corals limits this production to Indo-Pacific species, but research is being conducted to explore opportunities to culture native corals for restoration purposes.
Live rock consists of living marine plants and animals growing on the surface and within the crevices of dead coralline rubble pieces or porous calcareous rock. Encrustation may consist of sponges, algae, anemones, marine worms, tunicates, bryozoans and an undefined number and variety of microflora and fauna. Hobbyists value the live rock for aesthetic and functional reasons. Live rock in an aquarium creates an instant reef of varied life forms and the macro- and micro-biotic components maintain water quality. Approximately, two pounds of live rock are used for every gallon of water in the aquarium.
The harvest of naturally-occurring live rock in Florida waters (state and federal) was prohibited in the late 1990s. During the peak, roughly 300 tons of live rock valued at an estimated $10 million was harvested annually. Former live rock harvesters have established nearly 50 submerged land leases in state and federal waters. They deposited fossilized, quarried coralline or calcareous rock on these leases to provide a substrate for the recruitment of encrusting species. Rock placed too shallow becomes an attachment site for undesirable algae and all sites have experienced damage and loss due to algae blooms and tropical weather systems. Some producers have moved their live rock production into land-based greenhouses to avoid losses due to storms and other environmental factors present in the open water.
To satisfy some of the demand for marine ornamentals, a wide variety of organizations around the world have been working to solve biological and technical problems. Floridians have been at the forefront of these efforts but have lacked the resources to sustain consistent physiological, nutritional, culture and market research for a wide variety of high quality species. The Florida Sea Grant Program and the UF-Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory have made recent commitments to expanding public sector research and extension education efforts in marine ornamentals, focusing on farmer needs and opportunities.