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Five Ways You Can Protect Coral Reefs

Don't add to the growing demand for reef wildlife

  • Most fish don't survive the journey from ocean to aquarium, but many of those who do, like this baby tang, die shortly after. Rene Umberger

  • Highly coveted for their striking appearance, mandarinfish are subjected to cruel and crude collection methods. iStockphoto.com

  • Up to 50,000 banggai cardinalfish are taken from their natural habitats each month, but most die before making it into home aquariums. iStockphoto.com

Among the most diverse ecosystems on Earth and home to more than a quarter of the world's marine life, coral reefs are threatened by climate change, pollution, and a booming international trade in coral reef wildlife.

The trade is driven by consumer demand for the uniquely beautiful fish, coral, and live rock found in these delicate ecosystems. These creatures are collected and transported using cruel and destructive methods—like poisoning, mutilation, and starvation—that cause stress, pain, and death. 

High death rates mean that collectors must take even more wild animals to compensate for those who die. This vicious cycle has depleted fish populations in many areas and can degrade coral reefs.

The majority of fish, coral, and other creatures collected from coral reefs are destined for the United States—the world's largest importer of reef wildlife—for use in saltwater aquariums or as jewelry or home decor.

Avoid contributing to the demand, and ask others to do the same. Here are a few things you can do to help.

1. If you want an aquarium, know where your fish come from.

Most freshwater fish are captive bred and better suited for life in an aquarium. Freshwater fish and aquaria are much easier to maintain than saltwater ones.

If you do keep a marine aquarium, make sure the animals you buy are from captive breeding operations. Also, avoid buying fish or coral or other animals that die quickly.

Whichever type of aquarium you have, make sure to do all the necessary research in advance of introducing living animals to the aquarium to ensure the health and welfare of the animals. Get aquarium tips and tricks »

If you do keep a marine aquarium, make sure the animals you buy aren’t taken from the wild. The Tank Watch app helps you find reef and wildlife-friendly fish: those species bred in captivity and suitable for saltwater tanks. It also includes the most common fish taken directly from coral reefs so you can avoid them and help keep those fish protected. Download now »

2. Don't buy wild.

Avoid purchasing jewelry or home décor made of dead coral, seahorses, or other marine organisms (or any other wild animal parts, for that matter). Take the pledge »

3. Ask businesses not to support the coral reef trade.

If you know of a company that is selling wild-caught marine fish, coral, or other marine life, please let them know your concerns and encourage them to switch to captive-bred animals.

4. Learn more about Hawaii's coral reefs.

Coral reef destruction is a worldwide and growing problem—one that is steadily encroaching on our reefs in Hawaii. Read Trouble in Paradise: Coral Reefs at Risk »

5. Spread the word!

Most consumers don't know about this issue. The more people who are aware, the better off our world's coral reefs will be.

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