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Collection Point: Florida
Most Western Atlantic Marine Ornamentals Are Collected in or Imported Through Florida

The Western Atlantic is a distinct zoogeographical region extending from the coral reefs of the Bermudas to the isolated waters of Ascension Island. Collection happens on many islands throughout the Western Atlantic, and animals bound for the U.S. market generally are imported through Florida. In addition, a fairly large number of animals are also collected in Florida.

How the Western Atlantic Was Formed

About 24 million years ago, the shifting of continents formed Eurasia and Africa and interrupted what was once a continuous, circumtropical reef. A second barrier was formed by North and South America, which separated the Eastern Pacific from the Western Atlantic. Unlike some other zoogeographical regions, the Western Atlantic has remained a relatively isolated region owing to the barrier of deep ocean to the east and the continental landmass to the west. Both of these so-called zoogeographical boundaries have, generally-speaking, proven insurmountable barriers for most reef associated animals.

A Geographically Diverse Region

The Western Atlantic is one of the most interesting of the four primary regions from which marine aquarium animals are collected (Western Atlantic, West Africa, Eastern Pacific, and Indo-Pacific). While only about two-thirds of the families of fishes and invertebrates present in the Indo-Pacific are found in the Atlantic, the regional diversity of the area more than makes up for less biodiversity. With the exception of the coral reef communities in Southern Japan, nowhere else in the world do coral reefs and coral reef-associated species extend to such a high latitude. The remote Ascension Island, home to the resplendent angelfish (Centropyge resplendens), on the other hand, is a far cry from most people’s vision of tropical marine paradise. Undoubtedly, however, when most aquarists think Western Atlantic, they are thinking Caribbean Sea, and for good reason.

Reefs in Trouble

The Caribbean Sea is home to nearly a third of the world’s coral reefs, and these reefs are some of the most frequently visited reefs in the world. Unfortunately, many of these reefs are in trouble. A variety of stressors ranging from sea surface temperature change, coastal development and tourism, disease, and overfishing, have resulted in excessive pollution, coral bleaching events and disrupted ecosystems. With Caribbean reefs in such trouble, it is logical to wonder why animals are still collected there. At present, there is a general consensus that the Caribbean can support collection for most marine aquarium animals if that collection is carried out in a sustainable manner. One group of Western Atlantic animals that may not be collected and imported for use in the marine aquarium industry is coral. Most of the more than 70 species of coral from the Western Atlantic are off-limits. As such, most of the coral seen in the aquarium trade is imported from the Indo-Pacific. Nonetheless, there are some 14 families of corals represented in the Western Atlantic, and about ten of the 20 or so genera are endemic to the Caribbean Sea.

We at Blue Zoo believe that the future health of this fragile region is dependent upon educating people about the incredible undersea world that exists there. It is our belief that marine aquarists can and should be on the frontline of Caribbean tropical reef conservation through caring for legal and sustainably collected Western Atlantic species. Carefully recreating these Caribbean ecosystems in home aquaria gives aquarists an opportunity to share this undersea world with family and friends and is one of the best ways to heighten awareness about the plight of Western Atlantic reefs and the species that inhabit them.

Most Popular Western Atlantic Species

The most popular Western Atlantic animals collected and imported for the marine aquarium trade are royal grammas (Gramma loreto), black cap basslets (Gramma melacara), pearly jawfish (Opistognathus aurifrons), the Atlantic Blue Tang (Acanthurus coeruleus), and several angelfishes including the queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris), the French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru) and the rock beauty angelfish (Holacanthus tricolor). For serious collectors, the more expensive Caribbean fishes such as the Swissguard (Liopropoma rubre) and the rare resplendent angelfish (Centropyge resplendens) are very popular. The latter is perhaps the crown jewel of the Western Atlantic fetching a price of more than $1200 when available.

While there are many popular fishes from the Western Atlantic, it is the invertebrates (minus coral) that make up the bulk of the trade per unit. Peppermint shrimp, many snails, crabs, hermit crabs, and sea and brittle stars come to the marine aquarium hobby by way of the Western Atlantic through Florida.

Published 15 July 2008. © Blue Zoo Aquatics

   
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