Coral reefs – admired, theatened and robbed

The cynical trade in coral fish (German)

Trade in marine ornamental fish – case study Banggai cardinal fish

Vision NEMO – the first multimedia gate to the ocean

Almost all coral fish you see in an aquarium are not bred in captivity but come directly from a coral reef.

Of the over 2,000 traded species only about 1 per cent can be bred.

Due to the poor trapping, handling and transport methods, only four out of five fish make it to an aquarium.

The few fish that reach the aquarium alive are the strongest. But as they are extremely stressed their survival rate is very low.

Coral reefs are also called ‘the rainforest of the sea’. They form some of the most diverse ecosystems of the world and are home to around 4’000 fish species, i.e. one third of all known fish species. They also host about 800 stony corals and thousands of other invertebrates and sponges.

Coral reefs, the work of billions of tiny animals, only grow a few centimetres a year. These animals have built the biggest natural edifice on earth: the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, which is so large it can be seen from space.

But coral reefs are in danger: Overfishing, pollution and climate change threaten coral reefs all over the world. One third has already been destroyed and another forth will be gone in twenty years.

Coral reefs are of huge environmental and economic significance. They are the breeding ground for fish we serve in restaurants, act as a shoreline protection, and create the beautiful paradise islands we spend so much time on. Worldwide, more than 250 million people depend on coral reefs.

Coral reefs deliver unbelievable services. According to UN figures, the coral reefs value per km2 and year is estimated as followed: 18 million USD for natural risk management such as costal protection, up to 100 million USD for tourism, up to 5 million USD for genetic material (for medical purposes), and up to 350,000 USD for fishery.

The 2004 Tsunami in Asia proved the importance of the reefs clearly. In the absence of coral reefs, the wave simply washed over the coast leaving absolute destruction in its wake.

However, people still do not realise the environmental and economic significance coral reefs have for them. If coral reefs were to disappear, more than 100 countries would lose an incredible treasure. Land-locked countries, Switzerland for example, also carry their share of guilt by going on holidays to tropical islands, buying coral jewellery, eating coral reef fish and owning seawater aquariums.

The trade in coral fish is an often overlooked problem since practically no species is protected. There are hardly any trade controls or reliable management plans in place. Almost all coral fish are taken from wild coral reefs as the majority of coral fish cannot be bred.

Many coral fish die while being caught, handled or transported.The ones that reached an aquarium perish shortly after as a study of the WWF Philippines showed.


“WWF-Philippines estimates that as many as 98% of wild-caught reef fish die within one year.”

Supported by the Fondation Franz Weber