How the Critically Endangered Banggai Cardinal is Making a Comeback

While the Banggai Cardinalfish was first described in 1933, in 1994, the species was rediscovered in Indonesia’s Banggai archipelago by prominent ichthyologist Dr. Gerald Allen. Dr. Allen introduced the species to the United States where it quickly caught the attention of the aquarium hobby industry.

Amada44, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By 2016, the Banggai Cardinalfish’s wild population dropped by over 80% according to Dr. Alex Vagelli, director of science and conservation at the Center for Aquatic Sciences at Adventure Aquarium. Dr. Vagelli has been studying this species for over 2 decades and was the first biologist to fully document Banggai reproduction in captivity.

In the wild we have only observed this species in small, isolated areas that are scattered throughout Indonesia’s Banggai Islands. With the popularity of the species developing what seemed like overnight at the time, gave little to no time to develop a captive breeding program in order to meet the demand.

Another issue is that the Banggai Cardinalfish has unusual reproductive habits as compared to most other fish. Other fish commonly release hundreds to thousands of eggs at a time. The ocean’s currents then carry these eggs as they develop into juveniles and then adult fish as they consume zooplankton along the way. This enables them to develop properly without the constant threat of becoming prey to other fish.

Baby Bangaii Cardinal Fish – Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The female Banggai Cardinalfish only produces a few dozen large eggs which are fertilized externally in the water column by the male. The male then puts all of the eggs into his mouth and keeps them there until they hatch – which could take up to about a month. The fish then hatch into fully formed miniature adult versions of the species and then swim out of the male’s mouth in order to hunt and grow.

Typically mouth brooders are not the easiest fish to breed in captivity since if the male gets spooked for any reason it can consume the eggs and baby fish once they hatch. This creates a very specific breeding process that takes time to perfect. Plus, the Banggai Cardinalfish produce much less offspring than most other fish that are not mouth brooders.

Thanks to grants, private funding and Dr. Vagelli’s dedication to the survival of this species, there are now efforts to supply the aquarium industry with captive bred Banggai Cardinalfish in addition to a conservation program that is now in place to stop the collection of this species in the wild.

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 to captive-grown specimens. While typically these capture methods are inexpensive, they are environmentally destructive.

In addition to the captive breeding program, Dr. Vagelli is 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 the Bangaii Cardinalfish.

And this is really the key from what I have seen in researching solutions to resolve the issues that are caused by the collection of commonly kept species of fish for the aquarium hobby. By teaching the local fishermen and women how to become efficient at aquaculture, we can all work together in order to protect these species without resulting in a negative impact on these people economically. Sustainability and continuing to make the process profitable at the same time is the solution to most of these problems.

The environment becomes unstable when any single species is decimated for any reason. Especially due to human activity like overfishing. If we can stop the overfishing problem, then we will see a huge positive impact across the board.

If you are looking for a captive bred Banggai Cardinalfish for your aquarium, you can purchase them through Liveaquaria online or you can call your local fish store and ask if they can order you some from ORA Farms.

You can also learn all about aquaculture here: The Aquaculture Guide

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