Wild coral reefs are wonderful places to view, either by snorkel or scuba dive. Reef formations with various corals, and lots of varied fish.
But there’s a problem – or a potential problem anyway. Some of the fish don’t belong on some reefs.
All reef fish come from warm seawater and they are probably likely to be able to survive if they find themselves in warm seawater but far from home.
Just to look in a marine fish book at the various species shows that the varying fish have homes in different parts of the tropical or sub-tropical world. Some of them don’t volunteer for it but are caught and transported by air to foreign parts for the benefit of marine aquarists. If the destination is a cold area there isn’t a problem, but what of a warm one?
Marine aquarists practice the hobby in cold and warm areas of course. In both areas there can be the problem that a fish is well cared for but eventually outgrows the aquarium it calls home. What is the aquarist to do? In a cold area, or a warm one a distance from the sea, the only answer is to pass it to a colleague with a bigger aquarium who has the space, pass it to a retailer so that another aquarist can purchase it, or pass it on to a willing public aquarium.
In a warm area near the coast there is another option, and that is to put it in the sea.
It seems that this option has been put to use as there has been some sightings of foreign fish. For example, there have been four sightings of Lionfish. They were seen off the coast of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Other sightings of foreign fish were off the coast of southern Florida, and these included Sailfin Tangs, Yellow Tangs, Emperor Angelfish, Yellowbar Angelfish, Sohal Surgeons, Batfish and Arabian Angelfish. There could be others.
These fish could only have got into the area by introduction, and it is unlikely that this could have happened because of a professional body. (Professionals do make mistakes, however. An example is a public aquarium on the Mediterranean Sea, Europe. The macro algae Caulerpa either inadvertently got into the sea or was thrown in, and is now a major problem.)
It is likely that the fish were placed in the sea by aquarists probably because they had grown too large for the aquarium. The aquarist could well have been thinking of the fish, and maybe was unable to find anyone to take them – so into the sea they went.
On the face of it, what’s the problem? Beautiful fish enhance a reef. It is the fact they are foreign that is worrying. In several areas, not just the sea, introduction of foreign life has caused problems. Plants that were imported can escape gardens and end up in the wild, and out-compete the local plants. Maybe so can fish – the Lionfish may be having a great time eating local fish that have never come across the predator before. If angelfish etc are present in both sexes, they can breed and multiply. Will they out-compete local fish for algae and other food?
Marine aquarists are a responsible and caring group of people. None would want to harm any fish in their care, or cause upset to the wild reefs. Unfortunately, it is possible that imbalance could happen on the wild reef because of that caring attitude.