AUSTIN, Texas, Sept. 20 (UPI) -- Breeding saltwater aquarium fish, seahorses and invertebrates in captivity could preserve the ecosystems of the world's coral reefs, U.S. researchers say.
Marine biologists at the University of Texas at Austin say their research into captive breeding could help move much of the $1 billion marine ornamental industry toward entrepreneurs working to sustainably raise fish for the aquarium trade, a university release reported Tuesday.
"It's the kind of thing that could transform the industry in the way that the idea of 'organic' has changed the way people grow and buy fruits and vegetables," Joan Holt, UT professor of marine science, said.
"We want enthusiasts to be able to stock their saltwater tanks with sustainably raised, coral-safe species."
Holt, a pioneer in developing food sources and tank designs that enable fragile larvae to survive to adulthood, is a vocal critic of current methods used to bring sea creatures from the oceans to pet store tanks.
"One popular method is to use a cyanide solution," Holt said. "It's squirted into the holes and crevices of the reef and it anesthetizes the fish. They float to the surface. Then the collectors can just scoop them up, and the ones that wake up are shipped out."
This method damages coral and contributes to 80 percent of traded animals dying before ever reaching a tank, she said.
Holt said she believes fish raised in captivity will live longer, be healthier and be easier to care for.
"Species that are bred in captivity should adapt much better to your tank than something that was just caught halfway across the world, in a different system," Holt said. "Good retailers will want to sell these species, and consumers will benefit from buying them."