Fish Lab and Marine Life

[L]andaa Giraavaru’s Fish Lab breeds ornamental fish to promote marine conservation and education among guests and local school children, with the future aim of establishing fish breeding on neighbouring local islands as an alternative source of livelihood.

The aquarium fishery in the Maldives is highly regulated to safeguard tourism. Whilst this goes some way to protect the reefs, it also limits growth in the highly lucrative ornamental sector – estimated to have an annual worldwide trade value of USD 220-300 million. Although some ornamental marine species have been successfully reared in farms or labs, it is important to note that the majority (~90%) of those available to international aquarists and hobbyists have been collected from the wild. Captive cultivation techniques enable the production of hardy and disease-free fish, reducing pressures on the reef and eliminating the dangerous impacts associated with other forms of collection, such as the use of chemicals.

Fish Lab, microscope, Landaa Giraavaru, Maldives

Here in the Fish Lab our approach is simple: a happy fish is a healthy fish

Clownfish

[O]ur most recognisable residents are clownfish – a well-known family of fish found in all tropical waters, made famous by the movie ‘Finding Nemo’. We breed two common local species in the Maldives: the Maldivian Anemonefish; Amphipion nigripes (with its single white stripe) and the Clark’s Anemonefish; Amphiprion clarkii (distinguishable by its three white stripes).

Breeding females lay between 200-1500 eggs, which the parents guard for 6-7 days. When the fish larvae hatch, we collect them and place them in a separate tank, where we can closely monitor their growth and feed them properly. In nature, only a tiny proportion survive (1 in 150,000). In the Lab, we can ensure greater survival by eliminating predation and increasing the larvae’s food capture potential. For the first 5 days, the larvae consume approximately 350-600 rotifers (plankton) per day. From day 6 they are given an additional food source called Artemia (brine shrimp). By day 10-15 they start undergoing metamorphosis to become fish. Our live food lab produces both rotifers and Artemia in order to ensure that our larvae and baby fish have a constant supply of food.

Our approach is simple: “A happy fish is a healthy fish”. To maintain this requires dedication. We house all our broodstock (parent fish) with anemones to mimic the natural habitat of clownfish in the wild. By living in symbiosis (a mutually beneficial relationship) with a certain species of sea anemone, clownfish gain protection from their predators by the anemone’s stinging tentacles.

Seahorses

[S]ince November 2011 we have also been attempting to breed the Common Seahorse (Hippocampus kuda), with the first juveniles successfully produced in 2012. The juvenile seahorses are hungry little animals and devour a lot of rotifers and Artemia (just like the clownfish larvae). They are, however, not easy to rear as they are very fragile and sensitive to parasites and a deadly ailment called air bubble syndrome’.

The purpose of breeding seahorses in the Fish Lab is to further demonstrate an alternative to harvesting them from the wild. There is, however, so little data available on seahorse species that we stand at risk of losing them globally purely through not knowing enough about them. These reasons – compounded by the global deterioration of seahorses’ coral reef and sea grass habitats – make us even more passionate about breeding and rearing them here in the Fish Lab.

Ref: Cato, J.C. and C.L. Brown. 2003. Marine Ornamental Species: Collection, Culture, and Conservation. Ames, IA: Iowa State Press.

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