Dr. Monica V. Biondo

The Tragedy Proves: Further Large Aquarium Projects Must Be Prevented!

In mid-December 2022, the cylindrical “AquaDom” at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Berlin burst. Fondation Franz Weber consequently wrote an open letter to draw attention to the Coral World project in Rummelsburger Bay in Lichtberg, where a hotel complex with a large, cylindrical aquarium is also planned. The tragic event in Berlin serves as a reminder of the need to prevent similar incidents and halt further large aquarium projects.

The recent AquaDom cylinder burst at the Radisson Blu in Berlin resulted in the loss of around 1,500 ornamental fishes and has heightened safety concerns for future aquarium projects. Shortly after the tragedy, it became known that the Israeli company Coral World was also planning a large cylindrical aquarium in Rummelsburger Bay, which were halted by Lichtenberg’s city council in January 2023 due to these safety concerns. However, this does not mean the project is off the table…

The fact that large aquariums can burst is nothing new. Prior incidents include Mazatlán, Mexico in 2017, Shanghai, China in 2012, and Sydney, Australia in 2002. Fortunately, the AquaDom burst at night. Had it occurred during the day, in addition to 1,500 fishes, humans would certainly have lost their lives.

Facts About Ornamental Fishes And The Trade

Visit the new website www.procoralfish.org for more information about the trade in marine ornamental fishes. You will find all the facts presented in the article, which are taken from scientific (peer-reviewed) publications.

In an open letter, Fondation Franz Weber urgently advised against the construction of another large aquarium. Should such a time bomb really be built again in Rummelsburger Bay? How can such large aquarium projects continue to be approved in view of the climate crisis and the well-known threat to coral reefs? How many more fishes have to die in agony before people understand that these practices have nothing to do with species conservation?

Taken From The Coral Reefs
Practically all marine ornamental fishes swimming in an aquarium are wild-caught, i.e. they have been taken from a coral reef. Many fishes die during capture, during transport or later in the aquarium. As a zoologist who wrote her doctoral thesis on the trade in marine ornamental fishes (coral fishes), I know that aquariums offer hardly any benefit in terms of species conservation. Of the 2,500 ornamental marine fish species that are on the market and kept in large and private aquariums, only about two dozen reproduce in captivity in commercial numbers. Most of them are anemonefishes (“Nemos”) and seahorses.

Today, it is widely recognized that coral reefs are significantly imperilled by the effects of global warming. A third of coral reefs have already been irrevocably destroyed and, according to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we will lose 99% by the end of the century if the earth warms by two degrees Celsius (Switzerland has already reached this). Hence, in the end, all coral fishes are threatened with extinction.

Every year, between 15 and 30 million (some studies even say 150 million) marine ornamental fishes are traded worldwide. Germany alone imports almost 600,000 marine ornamental fishes annually. These figures do not include mortality. Depending on the species, this can be very high, which is why so many coral fishes have to be caught every year.

However, despite being a trade worth billions of dollars that has been taking place for hundreds of years, it has never been effectively monitored and hardly any species is protected, meaning that there are no controls or specific studies on the impact of removing fishes for aquariums on the health of coral reefs. Any fish can be bought and sold.

Just how serious the disappearance of a single species from a coral reef can be, is illustrated by the example of the cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidatus), which acts as a health policeman for other coral fishes and removes their parasites. In one study, all cleaner wrasses were removed, resulting in the degradation of the coral reef within a short period of time (Waldie et al., 2011 and Grutter et al., 2017).

Not only marine ornamental fishes are disappearing from the face of the earth; a total of one million animal and plant species are affected by the same fate. At the Conference of the Convention on Biodiversity held in Montreal, Canada, in December 2022, it was decided that 30 per cent of the world’s land and sea areas should be protected. This decision also speaks against new large aquariums, as does the energy crisis, which requires zoos and aquariums to consider measures to save electricity. In the end, it is obvious that aquariums do not contribute anything positive to either the energy or the biodiversity crisis, but actually make them worse.

“Protecting The Seas Where They Are”

FFW has been concerned with the trade in coral fishes since 2013. Shortly after the Basel Zoo presented its plans for the Ozeanium (a new large public aquarium), Vera Weber and marine biologist Dr. Monica V. Biondo organised opposition to the outdated project, which would have been harmful to the sea and the animals. Endangered and sensitive species should have been shown here. Today we know that large aquariums contribute neither to the conservation of species nor to raising awareness. With valid arguments and scientific work, FFW succeeded in winning over more and more people and organisations for resistance. When the Grand Council of the Canton of Basel-City made the Heuwaage available for the project despite FFW’s reservations, a referendum was held and signatures collected.

After a heated referendum campaign, the Basel electorate unequivocally rejected the Basel Zoo’s Ozeanium project on 19 May 2019. This decision had a worldwide impact: to ensure that the oceans are protected where they are. More information:www.nozeanium.org

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