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University Project Points To A New Way Of 'Finding' Nemo: Breed Them

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TOWNSVILLE, Queensland -- A world-leading project at James Cook University is breeding popular marine ornamental fish such as the Coral Sea Lyretail Blenny, the Banggai Cardinalfish and various Clownfish.

Dr Chaoshu Zeng, who leads JCU's Tropical Aquaculture Research Group in the School of Marine and Tropical Biology, said the group had developed pioneering marine ornamental captive breeding techniques.

Dr Zeng said the work would help reduce pressure on the wild marine ornamental fish populations.

"In recent decades, the aquarium hobby has become increasingly popular worldwide, fueling the rapid growth of marine ornamental trading industry," Dr Zeng said.

"Based on data of The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, annual imports of ornamental fish worldwide was valued at US$257 million in 1998 and this has increased at an average growth rate of 14 percent yearly over the past decade."

More than 97 percent of the industry's current supplies rely on specimens collected from the wild, and with estimated 30 million ornamental fish harvested annually from coral reefs, the reefs' biodiversity was suffering, he said.

"To help combat this, our research group has developed captive breeding techniques for a range of popular, highly prized marine ornamentals," he said.

"In the past, marine ornamental breeding has been attempted but without much success due to the complexity of techniques involved.

"However, our work in recent years has addressed all of the major issues and we have been successful in developing culture techniques for several popular species, including the Forktail and the Lyretail Blenny, the world-first, as well as other species, such as the endangered Banggai Cardinalfish."

All three were ready for commercialization today, he said.

Dr Zeng said while the idea of breeding ornamental fish was not new, the techniques they had developed were unique.

For example, major breakthroughs have been made on culturing tropical copepods (small crustaceans), the natural prey of reef fish larvae, which has been difficult in past.

The group has published multiple papers on their research results on the culture of tropical copepods in international scientific journals, which have been recognized worldwide.

"We currently maintain a culture of five tropical copepods, likely the only lab in the world with such a capacity," he said.

"We have also designed and built several larval culture systems that proved effective. This research paves the way for developing culture techniques for other valuable, more challenging species, which is currently ongoing research undertaking of the group."

Dr Zeng said an ornamental fish breeding industry would have many benefits.

"There are significant economic, social and environmental benefits to be generated by the establishment of a marine ornamental aquaculture industry in Australia, particularly in tropical Queensland.

"People are routinely willing to pay from $30 or $40 up to hundreds of dollars per fish and market demand means such an industry could easily grow to multi-million dollar one, creating new jobs for direct and associated business."

The industry would also replace the current heavy reliance on harvesting fish from coral reefs.

"Our coral reefs, such as the Great Barrier Reefs in our doorstep, will be better protected by replacing current practice of harvesting ornamental fish from the fragile reef ecosystems to supply the global marine aquarium trade with captive bred ones."

Dr Zeng recently was awarded a highly commended prize in the open section of UniQuest's annual Trailblazer innovation competition for his idea.

The Trailblazer competition rewards innovative ideas and early-stage research, which has the potential to benefit the community, industry or business as well as generate a financial return.

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