Aquarium Ethics and Responsibility
Is an aquarium right for you?

As is the case with keeping many types of pets, care for an aquarium is a hobby that requires study, skill, patience, and time.  However too, many do not understand the moral and ethical implications that go along with having an aquarium.

Lack of any of the above requirements can and will result in not only loss of life, money, and time spent with the aquarium, but also an effect on the natural habitat of many of these animals

Here was a great email I recently received, and thought I would share as the synopsis for this page:

Hello Brian,

My name is Rod.  I really want to get into the hobby of salt water fish and reef aquariums.  My only concern is for the environment.  You see, I am a scuba diver.  I know that in the places that I've traveled to that just touching these fish and corals can be considered a violation of the law.
Please be honest about your answer to my question.  It really matters to me.

How can we enjoy this hobby without feeling the guilt of destroying the environment?
Who's to say that in the future, these creatures will be available for
Won't the price of each fish rise so high that it would be impossible to have a salt water aquarium at home?

Thank you,
Rod Isaacson


Hello Rod and thanks for your questions:

It's amazing that I have yet to receive any other questions like yours in more than 10 years on the web, and I want you to know that I really appreciate not only the questions, but the sense of responsibility that goes behind them.

Firstly, I'm a diver myself; an avid diver at that.  I've dove many sites around the world ever since I was a little boy, and these were the roots of my love for the seas, and the creatures in them.

Will the coral reefs of the world be able to withstand our learning curve, human error, and irresponsibility of our aquarium hobby?  Your question here is valid.

My honest answer here is yes, the learning curve will overcome, the reefs will live, and my hopes are that one day man will payback many of the incredible aquatic families, species, subspecies, and other life forms that have been so generous to us.

I myself have thought many times about the ethical issues dealing with mankind's desire of keeping aquariums, Rod, and these are some of the fruits of my thoughts and research:

To an extent, I see the hobby of keeping an aquarium a combination of nature, science, hobby, and decor.  My sincere hopes are that the sciences of Marine Biology, Ichthyology and Aquarilogy will eventually catch and surpass the amount of knowledge that is unknown in these areas.  One day these sciences should live in symbiosis, because I believe it to be a fact that the waterways of the world (and the life they contain)  will need mankind, and mankind needs the waterways.  It's firstly probably important to note that these sciences have gained over leaps and bounds in the last few decades.  It's really amazing for me to look back over the past 20 or so years to think about how much more advanced the general knowledge is, just with regard to Marine Biology and Ichthyology, not to mention how far the aquarium hobby has come. 

I myself am keeping, raising, and in some cases propagating corals that even 10 years ago I thought not possible.  Many aquaculturists, and advanced aquarists are successfully raising very sensitive corals such as Acropora, Monitopora, Euphillia, Gorgonians, and tropical clams.  Many of these corals require the most pristine of water conditions.  Water parameters are now kept at before-unheard-of readings in the aquarium.  With respect to the freshwater trade, the breeding of freshwater species such as in the Cichlid family has enabled the hobby to take a huge burden from the collection of these species from their natural habitat, and it's allowed for interesting new aquarium specimens as a result of cross-breeding.

But, again Rod, your points are valid.  More people should understand the responsibilities that go along with keeping aquariums, especially the more sensitive reef aquariums that take much longer to replenish in nature.


People should think twice before they buy, and aquarium stores/fish outlets should be more responsible to who they sell to.  This responsibility should not be taken lightly, either.  As far as us being the buyers though, it is our moral responsibility to be informed how to keep our pets happy and healthy.  For the aquarist, that rule goes a long way.  What we keep is so sensitive.  One needs to understand and research things such as water conditions, diet, lighting needs, flow needs, compatibility, and the like before buying.  One should ask if he or she will have the time to dedicate to the aquarium.  I also see too many people buy a sensitive fish or coral at a whim, and have no idea how to take care of it, or what to do if it falls ill.  Because of this, these people's tanks often suffer and die. This really upsets me, and I am notorious for letting my local accounts know that.  Trust me on that one.  The most powerful tool one can have in keeping aquariums successfully is that of knowledge......although, time and planning are also a big help.

Today's successful aquarist is making major gains and connecting many bridges between the understanding of nature, and our hobby.  However, there are other factors that are having huge impacts on the reefs around world that I'm very much concerned about.  Businesses such as tourism, and oil drudging, events such as war and chemical spillage, and activities such as illegal waste disposal and silt spreading have done much, much more damage to the reefs, lakes, rivers, and streams around the world, and given nothing back. 

Events such as war have wiped out thousands of miles of reef.  When I was a boy, I lived in Saudi Arabia.  We lived on the Persian Gulf, which used to be world famous for it's fishing and coral reefs.  It was very tropical and beautiful on the gulf side, just as it is on the Red Sea side of Saudi.  After the Gulf war, many of the reefs and animals were completely destroyed after millions of barrels of oil were dumped into the Gulf, and many  will not recover for decades, even centuries.  Some of my best child memories were of diving those reefs, taking those Arabia Dhow boat trips to exotic sites, or swimming with the dolphins.  Thinking about it, and knowing that many of those reefs are gone now is really hard to swallow. 

I've been on dive trips since where I've seen entire fields of reef wiped out from bleaching or chemical poisoning; an eerie site.  On a side note, from Scuba alone, I don't know on how many dives I've seen rookie divers grabbing onto the side of the reef, or getting too close, and the current pushes them into it, or seeing people standing/walking on the reef, but I do believe the overall knowledge about coral sensitivity is also improving.

It's also important for the ethical aquarist to understand that when a coral, or fragment of a coral is collected from the reef "properly", often the coral will grow back rapidly to replace it (depending on the type of coral), or the space is quickly utilized by a more aggressive coral.  So, indeed it may take thousands of years to replace an entire coral reef, but on a living, thriving reef, individual coral pieces are replaced fairly quickly in relativity.  Emphasis should be made on proper and limited collections of any plants or animals used for the aquarium hobby. 

My further opinion on this is that steps should be made in identifying corals or fishes that are difficult, or impossible to care for removed from their natural habitat, and these species should be banned for collections.  Scientists, and marine biologists need to solve the age-old problem of identification discrepancy for this to effectively happen.

Will the aquarium hobby become too expensive?  Another great question.  My thinking is that the hobby will remain affordable, and that the aquarium hobby will go on for many years.  In certain cases, I think it will become more expensive with new and upcoming technology, and in other ways the hobby will become cheaper.  With respect to the equipment, as the science behind the equipment evolves, more mainstream manufacturers try to develop an affordable product for mass marketing.  So, in ways, certain filters, and auxiliary equipment will come down in price and increase in quality.  With respect to livestock, more and more aquarists are finding tank-raised marine fish, or aquacultured (home-grown) rock/coral that is available to the hobbyist than ever before.  These specimens are often hardy, cheap, and aquarium-friendly.  Wouldn't it be wonderful though, if one day we could rely more on aquacultured species then to collect them from nature?  This is something that is a very possible and attainable goal in the coming years.

Thanks again for these great questions, and I hope my response was helpful.



VersAquatics Co


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