Fishies: Brightening Oceans and Aquariums
I used to have a tropical fish aquarium. Fresh water - I always found salt water aquariums absolutely beautiful but was intimidated by the amount of work they seemed to require. Not only did I keep this 20 gallon aquarium, I transported it across numerous state lines - with the fish kept "securely" in a big ice chest filled with a few inches of water. Some of my fish moved from Florida to Arizona (2 different locations) and then to California. These trips were quite an ordeal - and not only caused my fish stress, but made me a nervous wreck as well. Keeping those fish alive during the multi-day car trip from Florida to Arizona, as you can imagine, was difficult. And as I have an affinity for ALL animals, letting "just a fish" die, wasn't something I could bear.
The last time I moved - from the east side of the San Francisco Bay to the peninsula south of San Francisco itself, I gave up my fish tank. After all the moves and money and stress I had put into this hobby, I was through - at least for the time being. These factors, as well as the fact that I could never be *sure* whether I was supporting an industry or store where the fish were bred for aquarium life or had been pulled directly from the ocean, led to my decision. The report "From Ocean to Aquarium" published in 2003 by the United Nations Environment Programme details the numbers of fish harvested from the wild for aquarium use; it turns out the figure is over 20 million tropical fish annually. A guide to your best bet for captive bred fish can be found here.
I miss my tank though. As does my cat. We would both spend large chunks of the day just sitting and staring at the peaceful (usually) goings on within that water. The variety and exceptional color that could be found on aquarium fish - even fresh water - was always astounding to me. The article, "The secret language of fish" by Roger Highfield appearing on the Telegraph.co.uk website, briefly explores the conundrum of why fish are so brightly and strangely colored. Some modifications are seemingly obvious - a dark spot by the tail while the eye is camouflaged by a stripe will lead predators to go for the wrong end. But why the, in some cases, such shockingly bright scales - especially colors that don't reflect well in water? The answer remains a mystery.
All photos © Sylvia Earle.