The strikingly beautiful Banggai cardinalfish measures only five centimetres, but is nonetheless a vital part of the coral reef. It is native to a very limited area, spanning just 23 km2 in the Banggai Islands of Indonesia. Fished exclusively for the aquarium industry, it is fast disappearing from the coral reef.
The Banggai cardinalfish was first discovered in 1920, but subsequently forgotten about until 1994. Today it is one of the top-selling marine ornamental fish in the world. The Banggai cardinalfish is an extraordinary creature: it has the smallest reproduction rate of all known 350 cardinalfish. Most fish release thousands of eggs into the water. Not so the Banggai cardinalfish: the female only lays about 50 eggs, which are rapidly fertilised by the mouthbrooding male. He protects both the eggs and the freshly hatched juveniles for a period of around 30 days. Although it was only rediscovered in the 1990s, today certain populations have already gone extinct. The most recent trade figures show that over half a million of these delicate fish are caught each year; 90% of the stock has already been wiped out. The Banggai cardinalfish is a languid swimmer and leads a very sedentary life in small shoals, sheltering among anemones, sea urchins and corals in shallow lagoons. Its distribution is therefore very limited. Not only is it easy to catch, it is also difficult to repopulate areas where it once died out.
Last Chance for the Banggai: Strict Trade Controls
In 2007, the USA attempted to better regulate the trade of the Banggai cardinalfish. Unfortunately, their petition at CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) for greater protection for the Banggai cardinalfish was blocked following pressure from Indonesia, and later withdrawn. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), however, sprang into action and classified the Banggai cardinalfish as «critically endangered» on the Red List of endangered species. This means that there is a high likelihood that this species will become extinct in the near future. Trade-restrictive measures have, however, never been implemented.
Fondation Franz Weber, alongside leading global US researcher Dr. Alejandro Vagelli, visited Indonesia in January and March 2015 and again in August 2016 to research the consequences of overfishing by the aquarium industry on the Banggai cardinalfish. As a result of some intensive research, Fondation Franz Weber has now succeeded in convincing the European Union (EU) that the Banggai cardinalfish needs urgent protection. Faced with these alarming results, the EU submitted a proposal to CITES to grant this fish conservation status: it should now be listed in Appendix II of CITES. If the proposal is accepted, commercial trade of this critically endangered fish will finally be regulated.
At the upcoming CITES Party Conference, taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 24 September to 5 October 2016, the global community now has a second chance to save the highly symbolic Banggai cardinalfish from extinction. Fondation Franz Weber will do everything in its power to protect the Banggai cardinalfish and ultimately to make sure that all trade of coral fish is closely scrutinised.