They’re in your dentist’s office, in restaurants, hotel resorts, and homes all over the world. The saltwater aquarium, with its bright coral and even brighter fish, brings a piece of the wild into your living room.
But do you really know where those saltwater fish come from? A full 98 percent—yes, almost all—species of saltwater fish can’t be bred in captivity. They must instead be taken from ocean reefs. And how is that done?
According to a report by National Geographic, most of the time, with sodium cyanide.
Sodium cyanide is a highly toxic chemical compound that many fish collectors in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia (the largest exporters of tropical fish) crush and dissolve in squirt bottles to spray on the fish—and the reef and all the other marine life in the vicinity.
Stunned, the target fish can then easily be scooped up.
Upon being squirted with cyanide, fish suffer “severe gasping, followed by loss of balance and a complete loss of all respiratory activity.” Some fish get too much exposure and simply die then and there. Many, many more die in transit. Others may hang on until they’re in an unsuspecting aquarium owner’s tank and then give out.
Despite the fact that this practice is illegal in these countries, an estimated 70 to 90 percent of the millions of tropical fish exported each year are caught illegally with cyanide.
What Cyanide does to the rest of the marine life?
Cyanide that doesn’t kill a fish temporarily impairs its ability to swim and breathe. Then there’s the coral. Each live fish caught with cyanide destroys about a square yard of coral, according to biologist Sam Mamauag of the International Marinelife Alliance, in the Philippines. Even in lower doses, cyanide can cause coral bleaching and mess with the coral’s biology. Sometimes, the coral is killed outright.
Once the coral’s dead, the entire ecosystem collapses. Without coral, reef fish, crustaceans, plants, and other animals no longer have food, shelter, and breeding grounds. The effects ripple up the food chain, affecting thousands of species—us included. Reef habitats provide food for tens of millions of people and contribute to the livelihoods, through commercial fishing and tourism, of many more.
Source: National Geographic