A world-first is being celebrated at the Oceanic Institute of Hawaii Pacific University (OI) where researchers have managed to successfully breed and rear yellow tang, one of the world’s most popular saltwater aquarium fish.
Thanks to the programme, 100 to 150 juveniles between 70 and 90 days old are happily swimming in their tanks, with more on the way. It’s taken nearly 15 years to achieve this landmark event in marine aquaculture. The project was financially backed by the Rising Tide Conservation, an initiative of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund focussed on protecting natural coral reefs.
“We’re excited to finally see the results of more than a decade of work coming to fruition thanks to the tireless work of our teams at OI. This achievement is the result of a monumental group effort and financial support from many organisations. We look forward to continuing this important work, and we are aiming now at taking this to the next level,” said Chatham Callan, director of the finfish program at OI and leader of the yellow tang breeding project.
The yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) is an iconic reef fish of the Hawaiian Islands and the most collected ornamental fish in Hawaii’s waters. In 2001 the Oceanic Institute in Hawaii began to focus on breeding and rearing them sustainably through aquaculture.
The task is challenging: the larvae of this species are microscopic and they eat sub-microscopic copepods and algae. Almost nothing is known about the larval stages of these and most other small reef fish, making this breakthrough all the more significant. They have a complex lifestyle; thousands of eggs are deposited in the reef and the emerging larvae then drift with currents, eating along the way, for one to three months until they develop a tail and the ability to swim.
“This successful captive breeding of yellow tang is the important first step in a giant leap forward for marine aquaculture,” said Dr Judy St. Leger, Director of Rising Tide Conservation and Vice President for Research and Science for SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. “Most people thought it could not be done but Rising Tide Conservation is proud to have supported Dr Callan and his team at the Oceanic Institute in achieving this milestone.”
Next the team will work to make sure this an ongoing process, with the ultimate goal of providing a sustainable alternative to reef collection through aquaculture.