This is the first in a series of blog posts covering the Center for Aquatic Sciences at Adventure Aquarium’s Dr. Alejandro Vagelli’s current research and conservation trip to Indonesia. Follow Adventure Aquarium on Facebook and Twitter for ongoing updates.
Pictured here during a recent census in Indonesia, Dr. Vagelli has dedicated his life’s research to the cause of the Banggai cardinalfish
On Sunday, Dr. Alejandro Vagelli, Director of Science and Conservation at the Center for Aquatic Sciences at Adventure Aquarium, embarked on a journey that will take him around the world to the Banggai Archipelago in eastern Indonesia on the Mulocca Sea, the only place in the world where you can find a tiny, tropical cardinalfish that bears the region’s name.
Known as Pterapogon kauderni, Banggai cardinalfish are an iconic coral reef animal in Indonesia; and are a beautiful and unique species extremely popular with collectors. Unfortunately, this strong demand among home aquarists, a limited habitat and questionable fishing tactics has led to a significant decline in the Banggai’s native population. In fact, their numbers have dropped a staggering 89% since their rediscovery in 1994.
But thanks to the dedication of Dr. Vagelli and researchers at the Aquarium, the Banggai’s population decline could soon turn around. As the world’s foremost expert in Banggai cardinalfish, Dr. Vagelli has devoted his life to the study of these elusive fish since first researching them at the Aquarium in 1997. In addition to being the first biologist to fully document Banggai reproduction in captivity, he’s developed techniques for breeding this delicate species and has published numerous scientific papers on their biology and ecology. Most recently, in 2007 he appealed to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to successfully secure an “endangered” Red List ranking for the Banggai.
Through grants and private funding, Dr. Vagelli has traveled to Indonesia four times in the past fifteen years to study the Banggai, evaluate their population and establish a conservation program.
The beautiful landscape of the Banggai Archipelago
The goal is not to repopulate the species, but rather try to halt the depletion of their population through development of captive breeding methods and secure an appropriate level of conservation-based control on harvest by partnering with Indonesian researchers and government offices to ensure this species continues to survive into the future. By working with local fishermen and organizations, Dr. Vagelli has been creating a captive breeding program that can make it economically feasible for local fishermen to change their collection methods from their inexpensive, but environmentally destructive capture methods to captive-grown specimens.
Working with indigenous people of the Banggai islands to continue the development of on-site aquaculture facilities for the future production of Marine Aquarium Council (MAC)-certified fish and provide training for adequate handling and shipping of cardinalfish.
During this month’s research trip, Dr. Vagelli will be out on a small vessel for 20+ days, during which time he’ll use a visual census method to assess fish populations throughout the species’ range and survey the geographical distribution of the cardinalfish on nearby islands.
In addition, he’ll will work with indigenous people of the Banggai islands to continue the development of on-site aquaculture facilities for the future production of Marine Aquarium Council (MAC)-certified fish and provide training for adequate handling and shipping of cardinalfish.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we’ll share progress updates from Dr. Vagelli and details on the incredible research that our team of researchers and biologists are doing in-house to help save this species.
Did you know?
- The Banggai cardinalfish has a fascinating story. Unlike most marine fish, this species produces a very small number of eggs, which the males incubate in their mouths. After hatching, the embryos remain in the parent’s mouth until they complete their development.
- The Banggai is highly prized by aquarium collectors and has been heavily exploited since its rediscovery in 1994.
- According to its ranking by the IUCN, there’s been an 89% reduction in population from the start of the aquarium fishery in 1995 to present day.
- The present total population is between 1.8 and 2.2 million individuals
- Presently an estimated minimum of 700,000 – 900,000 fish are extracted every year.
- Remarkably, the total occupied habitat for this species is just 34 square km (21 square miles), distributed among 30 islands. They are found nowhere else in the world.