Expanding our understanding of the trade in marine aquarium animals
The trade of live marine animals for home and public aquaria has grown into a major global industry. Millions of marine fishes and invertebrates are removed from coral reefs and associated habitats each year. The majority are imported into the United States, with the remainder sent to Europe, Japan, and a handful of other countries. Despite the recent growth and diversification of the aquarium trade, to date, data collection is not mandatory, and hence comprehensive information on species volume and diversity is lacking. This lack of information makes it impossible to study trade pathways. Without species-specific volume and diversity data, it is unclear how importing and exporting governments can oversee this industry effectively or how sustainability should be encouraged. To expand our knowledge and understanding of the trade, and to effectively communicate this new understanding, we introduce the publically-available Marine Aquarium Biodiversity and Trade Flow online database (https://www.aquariumtradedata.org/). This tool was created to communicate the volume and diversity of marine fishes and/or invertebrates imported into the US over three complete years (2008, 2009, and 2011) and three partial years (2000, 2004, 2005). To create this tool, invoices pertaining to shipments of live marine fishes and invertebrates were scanned and analyzed for species name, species quantities, country of origin, port of entry, and city of import destination. Here we focus on the analysis of the later three years of data and also produce an estimate for the entirety of 2000, 2004, and 2005. The three-year aggregate totals (2008, 2009, 2011) indicate that just under 2,300 fish and 725 invertebrate species were imported into the US cumulatively, although just under 1,800 fish and 550 invertebrate species were traded annually. Overall, the total number of live marine animals decreased between 2008 and 2011. In 2008, 2009, and 2011, the total number of individual fish (8.2, 7.3, and 6.9 million individuals) and invertebrates (4.2, 3.7, and 3.6 million individuals) assessed by analyzing the invoice data are roughly 60% of the total volumes recorded through the Law Enforcement Management Information System (LEMIS) dataset. Using these complete years, we back-calculated the number of individuals of both fishes and invertebrates imported in 2000, 2004, and 2005. These estimates (9.3, 10.8, and 11.2 million individual fish per year) were consistent with the three years of complete data. We also use these data to understand the global trade in two species (Banggai cardinalfish, Pterapogon kauderni, and orange clownfish, Amphiprion ocellaris / percula) recently considered for Endangered Species Act listing. Aquariumtradedata.org can help create more effective management plans for the traded species, and ideally could be implemented at key trade ports to better assess the global trade of aquatic wildlife.