Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse habitats on Earth, hosting one-quarter of all marine species present in the oceans and an estimated 1 million to 9 million species in total. But these extraordinary habitats, which comprise less than one-tenth of one percent of the ocean floor, face dire challenges due to human activity, including ocean acidification, coral bleaching, pollution, warming ocean temperatures, and exploitation.
Through its Rising Tide Conservation initiative, the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund has developed a creative new method for combating overexploitation, a problem that threatens to upset the already precarious balance present in coral reefs. Rising Tide Conservation promotes captive breeding of reef species to reduce pressure on ecosystems, which can arise as a result of the collection of various species for commercial purposes. By funding projects that help conservationists develop a better understanding of breeding these fish in captivity, the project aims to shift the financial incentives of wildlife dealers from capture to breeding programs.
Historically, the breeding of reef species has met with little success, but recent scientific developments have provided valuable insight and given new hope to breeders. A large part of Rising Tide Conservation's mission is to provide a venue for the exchange of information among breeders so that advances in the field can be shared and lead to an ever-increasing number of studies. Rising Tide Conservation is very inclusive in its approach, working not only with aquaria and zoos but also with fish hobbyists and private aquaculture groups nationwide.
The advisory council at Rising Tide is made up of many highly qualified marine biologists, environmentalists, professional aquarists, and leading aquarium hobbyists. These members include Dr. Judy St. Leger, director of pathology and research for SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment; Dr. Matt Wittenrich, a senior scientist at the University of Florida's Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory; and Eric Cassiano, a PhD candidate at the University of Florid whose research focuses on alternative live feeds for first-feeding marine ornamental fish larvae.
The great part about this project is that anyone who wants to get involved can do in a variety of ways. Rising Tide is always seeking more information about breeding practices and welcomes contact from anyone who can provide new data and accounts. But people don't necessarily need to be fish experts to make a difference. Engaging local pet shops in the discussion about preserving threatened ecosystems can make a significant difference in the choices these businesses make regarding which types of fish to stock. Providing information about reef fish populations and environmental challenges to local tropical fish newsletters is also a great way to raise awareness of the cause. Financial contributions to the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund are also welcome.