Discovery Magazine

Aquaculture of Marine Ornamental Animals

Our laboratory's focus has been to develop aquaculture technology for marine ornamental fish and invertebrates. Virtually all of the about 2,000 marine ornamental fish and invertebrates species marketed in the aquarium trade industry are collected from the wild, especially coral reef ecosystems. Extensive and destructive collection of these animals (e.g, use of cyanide and explosives) can directly deplete the target species and indirectly damage the delicate coral reef ecosystem. Aquaculture of marine ornamental fish and invertebrates is recognized as a viable alternative to wild collection.

Over the years, we have studied Lysmata shrimp and crab species popular in the marine aquarium trade.  Complete life cycle culture has been achieved for several species.  The species of Lysmata shrimp also has a unique reproductive system, protandric simultaneous hermaphrodite. The shrimp first matures as a male and may change to a simultaneous hermaphrodite that can function as both male and female. Our laboratory has also developed the technology for culturing emerald crab Mithrax sculptus and red clinging crab M. forceps.

A focus in recent years is developing aquaculture technology for the seahorses, popular as marine ornamental fish species, and collected in very large numbers for the traditional Chinese medicine.  Seahorses, along with  pipefishes and seadragons, are the only vertebrate group in which embryonic development occurs within a special pouch in males after the females deposit eggs during mating. This and the other unique features of seahorses (horse-like face, long snout for sucking in food, no scale, swim upright, prehensile tails for resting, a coronet on the head, a flexible and well-defined neck, and eyes that move independently of each other) make them very popular as marine ornamental species.  But the most serious threat for sustaining the seahorse populations is the increasing demand for the traditional Chinese medicine.  We have worked to overcome the difficulty of early juvenile survivorship so commercial production of seahorse species can be established to reduce collecting in the wild.