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Ecology - Science Policy

Managing the Marine Aquarium Trade: Revealing the Data Gaps Using Ornamental Polychaetes
Published: Tuesday, January 03, 2012
Author: Joanna M. Murray et al.

by Joanna M. Murray, Gordon J. Watson, Adriana Giangrande, Margherita Licciano, Matt G. Bentley

The marine aquarium industry has great potential to generate jobs in low-income coastal communities creating incentives for the maintenance of a healthy coral reef, if effectively managed. In the absence of current monitoring or legislation to govern the trade, baseline information regarding the species, number and source location of animals traded is missing despite being critical for its successful management and sustainability. An industry assessment to establish the number and provenance of species of ornamental polychaetes (sabellids and serpulids) traded was undertaken across UK wholesalers and retailers. Six geographical regions exporting fan worms were identified. Singapore contributed the highest percentage of imports, but of only one worm “type” whereas Bali, the second largest source, supplied five different worm “types”. Over 50% of UK retailers were supplied by one wholesaler while the remainder were stocked by a mixture of one other wholesaler and/or direct imports from the source country. We estimate that up to 18,500 ornamental polychaetes (16,980 sabellids and 1,018 serpulids) are sold annually in the UK revealing a drastic underestimation of currently accepted trade figures. Incorrect identification (based on exporting region or visual characteristics) of traded animals exacerbates the inaccuracy in market quantification, although identification of preserved sabellids using published keys proved just as inconclusive with high within-species variability and the potential for new or cryptic species. A re-description of the polychaete groups traded using a combination of molecular and morphological techniques is necessary for effective identification and market quantification. This study provides the first assessment of ornamental polychaetes but more importantly highlights the issues surrounding the collection of baseline information necessary to manage the aquarium trade. We recommend that future management should be community based and site-specific with financial and educational support from NGOs, local governments and industry members.