Rene Umberger, dive master and activist, discusses the marine aquarium trade in Hawaii and its impact. She tells “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme that every year, over 30 million fish are plucked from their coral reef homes for use in the aquarium hobby, with over 1,500 species targeted. Nearly all, 98 percent, of these saltwater aquarium animals are wild caught because captive breeding is difficult, if not impossible. She also notes that the Hawaiian islands are a key source of reef fish for the aquarium trade because of its many endemic species. However, over the last 20 yrs, the state has seen declines of 14 to 97% of aquarium fish species outside of protected areas. Millions of Hawaii’s reef animals are collected annually, although nobody knows exactly how many because collection reports are not always filed and none are verified against the actual catch. In fact, experts estimate the true catch may be 2 to 5 times higher than 500,000 to 1 million fish reported.
Rene Umberger has logged over 10,000 dives as a scuba instructor and dive guide on Maui since 1983. Her concern for Hawaii’s coral reefs led her to develop projects to address impacts to these fragile ecosystems. These include partnering with marine tourism, conservationists and educators to create interpretive materials and environmental standards for marine tour operations (which have since been adopted statewide). She’s also developed and organized, in partnerships with local fishing supply stores and the NOAA Hawaii Marine Debris Action Plan, underwater clean ups that have removed and partially recycled over 4000 lbs. of Ulua fishing gear from entangled corals along heavily fished shoreline sites. In recent years her work has focused on educating Hawaii’s communities and leaders on the impacts of the aquarium trade and advocating for strong protections for Hawaii’s coral reef wildlife. This episode of “The WildLife” originally aired on The Radiator, WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont on October 4, 2010 and was re-podcast on March 7, 2011. (There was no broadcast due to snowstorm.)