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Tag: conservation

Video – Saving the Corfu Killifish

February 23rd, 2016 — 1:45pm
Valencia robertae male

Image depicts V. robertae, the other Valencia species endemic to Greece. © Jörg Freyhof

Inspiring video from ZSL presenting details of an ongoing, long term conservation program for Valencia letourneuxi, one the most endangered freshwater fishes in the Mediterranean basin. Many congratulations to Brian Zimmerman and the team; it is awesome to see a project which it seems will deliver tangible results for wild populations of this species.

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Help Migratory Fish around the World

January 22nd, 2016 — 3:13pm

WFMD 2016

You are cordially invited to make a global impact by joining World Fish Migration Day on the 21st of May 2016!

In association with WFMD2016 we want to connect fishes, rivers and people, and to bring migratory species into the spotlight.

Migratory fishes represent a primary component of many riverine ecosystems around the world, and are also essential for millions of communities who are dependent on them as a food source. With the help of organisers of local events on one global day we hope to create more global awareness and to achieve a significant impact on fish migration policies, measures and management. As such, we would like to invite you to join in the celebrations by organising an event on World Fish Migration Day 2016!

Invitation WFMD 2016

Events can be: river-cleanups, festivals, celebration on a dam/weir removal, inauguration of a fishway or a river restoration project, research activities in the field, special school programs and involving students/citizens, special trainings/workshops, etc. If you are interested you can visit our website and follow us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WorldFishMigrationDay) and Twitter (#WFMD2016, @fishmigration).

In 2014 over 1000 different organisations contributed to WFMD2014 with more than 270 events taking place. We hope that this year you can also join in the celebrations.  You can register your event directly on the project website http://www.worldfishmigrationday.com/join-wfmd. If you have any questions or would like to get involved, please don’t hesitate to contact Kerry Brink ([email protected]).

Also, click here to download the official flyer for this year’s event!


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Cry for Help for Migratory Fish from New Zealand to Hawaii

May 20th, 2014 — 12:57am

Salmon banner

As previously covered here on SF, on May 24th 2014, local community events will be taking place at 250 locations worldwide to celebrate the first World Fish Migration Day. Continue reading »

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Can you help the Freshwater Bioblitz?

February 3rd, 2014 — 1:49pm
Acantopsis dialuzona, Terengganu state, Peninsular Malaysia. © Matt Ford

Acantopsis dialuzona, Terengganu state, Peninsular Malaysia. © Matt Ford

The ‘Global Freshwater Fish BioBlitz’ kicked off on World Wetlands Day to engage nature lovers in freshwater fish conservation.

The Freshwater Fish Specialist Group (FFSG), of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Wetlands International (IUCN), has joined forces with other international groups, chiefly the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, FishBase, the Fisheries Society of the British Isles and the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network, to introduce this new global initiative. The BioBlitz project is designed by iNaturalist.org and hosted on the FFSG website www.iucnffsg.org/bioblitz.

People from around the world, whether anglers, photographers, students or nature lovers, are invited to upload photographs of freshwater fishes observed in their natural habitat, with details of where and when they saw them.  Volunteers with expertise in fish taxonomy will serve as curators to identify and verify the species to ensure the data is research-grade.  The information has the potential to assist scientists to describe new species, help assess the risk of extinction for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, can track the spread of invasive species and can be exported to freely accessible online data archives, such as Encyclopedia of Life.

Phoxinus phoxinus, UK. © Jack Perks

Phoxinus phoxinus, UK. © Jack Perks

The launch of the project also highlights the importance of freshwater fish for the protection of internationally important habitats. “More than three-quarters of Ramsar’s Wetlands of International Importance, or Ramsar Sites, are entirely or partly freshwater sites, and, of those, over 30 percent became Ramsar Sites because of their important fish species” said Christopher Briggs, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. “The more data we have on the species present in our wetlands, the better we can manage them. The Freshwater Fish BioBlitz will provide a wealth of essential information for managing our wetlands and their fish species.”

Projects like this are needed as Will Turner, Senior Vice President for the Moore Center for Science and Oceans at Conservation International, explains “Freshwater fishes may be the most endangered group of vertebrates, with a third of all species threatened with extinction due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss and fragmentation, alien invasive species and climate change.”

Lentipes sp. in the Philippines. © Odyssey

Lentipes sp. in the Philippines. © Odyssey

“The BioBlitz is our way of bringing the power of crowdsourcing to freshwater fish conservation,” said Michele Thieme, senior freshwater conservation scientist at World Wildlife Fund. “Wildlife monitoring is vital to conservation, since we can’t protect species unless we know where they live and what threats they might be facing. Engaging the public all over the world will help us identify more species in more places than we possibly could alone.”

“It is a huge task – with over 15,000 freshwater fish species, and numbers continually growing,” said Dr Richard Sneider, Global Chair for the FFSG. “More than 300 new fish species are described every year on average, so the more people ‘on the ground’ carrying out observations and recording what they have seen, the better.”

The Global Freshwater Fish Bioblitz is inspired by a similar project for amphibians, which the Amphibian Specialist Group began more than two years ago. “We’re hoping to mimic the success of the Global Amphibian BioBlitz, which has been embraced by citizen-scientists throughout the world,” said Sneider. “In only two years they’ve recorded more than 1,500 taxa and even discovered a new species. I’d say that’s a pretty good start.”

FFSG logo art small

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Support World Fish Migration Day 2014!

December 11th, 2013 — 9:12am
WFMD logo

Connecting Fish, Rivers, and People

Although the majority of fluvial freshwater fishes are migratory to some extent the spatial and temporal extent of these movements varies considerably depending on species. Continue reading »

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FFSG has global mission

November 13th, 2013 — 1:04pm

FFSG logo art

Considering that freshwater habitats contain just 0.3 % of global water resources they are home to a surprising diversity of species with around 15,000 described to date, a figure which represents almost half of all known fish taxa and approximately 25 % of all vertebrates.

Continue reading »

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Doing Things Their Way

June 17th, 2013 — 7:43pm

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

The Aquarium of Brussels is a hidden gem in the Belgian capital…

In contrast to our usual waffle this experiment blog post is going to be heavy on photos and low on word count, so let’s see how it goes.

While visiting Belgium a couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend an enjoyable few hours at the wonderfully impressive Aquarium of Brussels.

It’s possibly the cleanest such set up I’ve ever seen, and puts many zoos and larger ‘chain’-style public aquaria to shame.

Cooler still, the vast majority of installations are dedicated to freshwater fish and amphibians with a number of rare and endangered species among them.

They also have an off-public area which is equally as spotless as the main displays and lots more endangered fish are being bred and raised there.

A few pics should help illustrate what I’m talking about…

Ptychochromis oligacanthus from Madagascar:

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

Bedotia sp. ‘Namorona’ is an undescribed (and huge!) species restricted to parts of the Namorona River, also in Madagascar. The zoo are having trouble breeding these so any tips would be much appreciated.

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

Malagasy display with Bedotia sp. ‘Namorona’, the killifish Pachypanchax sakaramyi and Ptychochromis oligacanthus.

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

Fundulopanchax display – great to see killis getting some attention.

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

Iberian ribbed newt, Pleurodeles waltl. These are being bred in quite large numbers behind the scenes…

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

…speaking of which. Here’s one of the ‘backstage’ area tanks with the goodeid Ilyodon furcidens.

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

Goodeids, newts and poison frogs, all breeding at the aquarium.

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

More Ptychochromis oligacanthus. The tank itself is interesting as like all of those at the aquarium it’s made of a type of marine wood with a glass front panel.

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

Young cichlids growing on.

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

Quarantine for future display fish.

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

Breeding and raising tanks for endangered species containing the Corfu killifishValencia letourneuxi, various cichlids, Melanotaenia spp., goodeids, etc.

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

This area must require as much upkeep as the display area to maintain these standards and the whole set-up is a massive credit to the managers and staff.

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

Back in the main aquarium, this display contained endangered goodeids.

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

Finally, a lovely little paludarium housing a breeding population of the Oriental fire-bellied toad, Bombina orientalis plus some White Cloud Mountain minnows in the water.

© Matt Ford/Seriously Fish

Aside from the standard of husbandry and attention to detail on display there were other things to admire here.

For example, this is a relatively small, low budget project funded by the Belgian National Lottery, yet is Brussels’ only public aquarium and on a Saturday afternoon was busy with a number of larger kids’ groups inside.

The aquarium offer audio tours in several languages which offer information about the various animals on display including the reasons why they are being maintained in the case of endangered species, while kids are able to undertake a series of activities on the way round.

Some of these involve ticking off the species on display, or even drawing them, and it was the first time I’d heard young children talking excitedly about goodeids in a public aquarium, for example.

Since the majority of such aquaria in the world tend to feature an identical series of displays (coral reef, clown fish, ray touch pool, shark tunnel, piranhas, Amazon display, rinse, repeat) this modest yet inspiring place is well worth a visit.

It was brilliant to see a focus on freshwater rather than marine species given that the ongoing environmental crisis affecting their habitats around the planet continues to be largely ignored by conservation groups and mainstream media alike.

Matt Ford

Aquarium of Brussels home page: http://www.aquariologie.be/

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Is freshwater advocacy group the solution?

June 3rd, 2013 — 8:46pm

© Michael Lo

In the second part of an interview with Paul Jepson from the University of Oxford, Will Darwall, Head of the IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Unit, suggests that formation of a single, unified group of scientists and conservationists may help give voice to the crisis affecting the planet’s freshwaters. Continue reading »

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What can be done to protect freshwater biodiversity?

May 30th, 2013 — 7:55pm

© Rune Evjeberg

Maintaining what remains of freshwater biodiversity is set to become one of the planet’s biggest challenges in the coming decades with up to 50 % of global wetlands already lost in the last century and habitat degradation continuing at an alarming rate. Continue reading »

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For Peat’s Sake…

March 27th, 2013 — 3:19pm

Surely it’s time we stopped using this valuable, non-renewable natural resource in our tanks, says Matt Ford

Satellite photo of the island of Borneo taken August 19 2002 showing smoke from burning peat swamp forests © Jacques Descloitres

Among the multitude of freshwater fish species available in the aquarium hobby a great number of them hail from tropical forests in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia, and one prevailing image of how their habitats might look is that of peaty forested streams and pools containing tea-coloured blackwater.

Aside from its distinctive colour the water is also typically acidic, rich in humic substances, nutrient-poor and inhospitable to most microorganisms, so we often attempt to simulate these natural conditions in our tanks to promote optimal health and breeding in our fishes.

There are several popular methods and one of the most widespread is the use of natural peat, often in the form of peat ‘moss’, compressed granules or pellets, in liquid ‘blackwater extract’-type products, or more rarely in its unrefined, fibrous state.

Most of the peat we use in aquaria is formed from mosses of the genus Sphagnum and sold in both dried and processed formats © Ragesross

The use of peat in whatever format is perhaps worthy of reconsideration, though, and here’s why…

What is peat and why is it important?

Peat is an organic material formed by partially-decomposed vegetation under waterlogged conditions which accumulates faster than it breaks down.

It typically forms in bogs, swamps and similar habitats where conditions are lacking in oxygen, preventing the activity of microorganisms and reducing the rate of decomposition.

As the peat accumulates it’s also able to store more water and the area of bog thus expands.

Peat bogs dominated by Sphagnum tend to be acidic © James K. Lindsey

Under normal circumstances plant material produces the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide when it decomposes but in such an oxygen-deficient bog or swamp it’s stored as carbon and ‘locked’ from escaping into the atmosphere.

Peat-rich environments therefore provide an essential environmental function as enormous carbon sinks at the global scale, with those remaining in the UK alone storing more carbon than all of Europe’s forests combined.

The most recent estimate that global peatlands contain approximately 650 Gt (gigatonnes) of carbon, about 80 times more than annual emissions from the fossil fuel industry which produces around 8 Gt.

Peat also accumulates gradually over thousands of years, so cannot be replaced once removed, and therefore in no way can it be considered a renewable or sustainable resource.

Besides all this peat-rich environments support diverse and unique biological communities that can never be regained once lost.

Bog Asphodel, Narthecium ossifragum, is a typical inhabitant of damp, peaty soils in Western Europe © Colin Dunlop

Many bog plants are highly-specialised, for example, and include iconic species such as the carnivorous sundews, Drosera spp., and venus fly trap, Dionaea muscipula, while well-known aquatic genera such as Cryptocoryne and Barclaya are native to peat swamp forests of Southeast Asia.

The physical and chemical properties of peat depend on the type of vegetation involved in its formation, and the stuff we use in aquaria tends to be harvested in Canada and dominated by mosses of the genus Sphagnum, commonly referred to as peat or bog mosses.

Sphagnum bogs are normally acidic due to the mosses’ tendency to absorb cations such as calcium and magnesium while releasing hydrogen.

They can exist in several different forms, from ‘string’ bogs comprising a series of elevated ridges and islands or ‘raised’ bogs where the peat accumulates above the point where water is able to reach its centre and forms a dome or mound, to ‘floating’ bogs in which the bog vegetation forms a thick mat floating on water or very wet underlying peat.

Carnivorous plants such as this Drosera sp. are common in peat bogs. Nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients are usually scarce in such conditions so the plants obtain them from captured insects © Colin Dunlop

Other types of peat wetland may have neutral to alkaline water chemistry and relatively high concentrations of dissolved minerals with vegetation typically consisting of sedges and grasses.

These are normally referred to as fens rather than bogs with the pair collectively known as mires.

Which part of the world does it come from?

The largest areas of peatland lie in boreal and subarctic regions, particularly northwestern Europe, western Siberia, central Canada and Alaska.

Important peatlands are also found in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia and in recent years the existence of extensive peat deposits in the western Amazonian lowlands has also been confirmed having only rarely been considered in the past.

Typical unspoiled blanket-type peat bog in Scotland, United Kingdom © Colin Dunlop

Why, how and to what extent is peat being exploited?

Peat has been used as an energy source for at least 2000 years and today is still excavated in industrial quantities then dried for use in horticulture and as a fuel.

The traditional method of removal is hand-cutting using a specially-designed spade known as a sleán or slane in such a way that the peat layer is able to continue to grow after harvesting.

Although a laborious, time-consuming process hand-cutting does permit recovery of peat to a certain extent since it usually takes place on a relatively small scale.

More common in modern times is industrial-scale mechanised extraction using either an auger (aka sausage machine) or digger-and-hopper with the latter in particular resulting in rapid deep-draining of the peat, stripping of surface vegetation and irrevocable destruction of entire wetlands.

Mechanical harvesting of peat tends to cause irreversible damage to bog habitats. Compare this scene with the previous image © M. J. Richardson

In the United Kingdom, for example, a combination of draining and ditching plus an ill-conceived attempt to use bogs for planting of sitka spruce trees by the paper industry in the 1980s has already resulted in the loss of over 90% with only 6000 hectares (ha.) of the original 95,000+ ha. remaining.

Peatlands are also destroyed in order to replace them with large-scale agricultural projects and during the last decades such exploitation has had a negative effect on carbon storage and biodiversity, increasing carbon emissions, enhancing global warming and driving thousands of species towards extinction.

This is perhaps most evidently seen in the mass-clearing and burning of peat swamp forests in Southeast Asia which continues today but was exemplified by the Indonesian government’s failed ‘Mega Rice Project’ during the late 1990s.

In 1997 fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra released 0.81-2.57 Gt of carbon into the atmosphere, representing 13-40 % of that year’s global carbon emissions and causing the 1997 Southeast Asian haze.

An area of former peat swamp forest in Riau province, Indonesia (Sumatra) after being burned for replacement with oil palms © Aid Environment

Although the MRP was abandoned, and has subsequently been considered one of the great environmental disasters of our time, clearing and burning of peatlands continues across Southeast Asia and one hypothesis predicts that at the current rate of loss there will be no more peat deposits in the region by 2040.

Should this occur the catastrophic loss of endemic species would include a host of well-known aquarium fishes such as members of the genera Betta, Parosphromenus, Rasbora, ‘Puntius’, Boraras, Sundadanio and Pangio, many of which are already at risk of extinction.

Fishkeepers can hardly be blamed for all this though, can they?

Of course not, but is there really a need to contribute to the destruction of such important natural habitat?

Although the amount of peat consumed by the aquarium industry is in no way comparable to that used in the manufacture of horticultural products or fuel our hobby is consuming by nature and this is one way in which it can take a positive step to become less so.

Many fishkeepers also tend to demonstrate an interest in the natural world so given this is a genuine environmental issue maybe it’s time to reassess the use of peat in our tanks and seek equally useful but more sustainable alternatives.

Many Betta species are stenotypic inhabitants of peat swamp forests and are disappearing along with their habitats © Haji Badaruddin

But surely if the fishes I keep come from environments influenced by peat I need to use it in their aquarium?

Actually in most cases the answer is no.

The chemical properties of peat are affected by local vegetation-types, the environment in which it’s deposited and the extent of decomposition, with pH normally ranging from 4.0 – 7.0 but sometimes being as low as 3.0, for example.

Any peat or peat-based product used in the aquarium is therefore extremely unlikely to match that occurring in the natural habitat of our fishes.

Peats formed from sedges such as Carex spp. tend to be neutral or alkaline rather than acidic © Hermann Schachner

The primary organic constituents of peat are often referred to collectively as humic substances of which a principal component is humic acid, and this is often said to be important for species which naturally inhabit black water environments.

However, humic acid actually refers to a complex mixture containing a number of different acids rather than a single substance and is formed from biodegradation of plant material in general rather than a single particular group.

In the aquarium a similar effect can be obtained by using leaf litter or alder cones, both of which release humic acids when allowed to decompose in water.

You may also be able to collect these yourself which is easier on the pocket, and it goes without saying that the use of dead leaves and cones is more environmentally-friendly than peat.

Alder cones offer similar advantages to peat in the aquarium and you can collect them yourself © Anneli Salo

Moreover peat does not exert a significant effect on water chemistry in the quantities normally used in aquaria and is not useful as a means of acidifying water (the same can be said of leaves and alder cones) rather the chemicals it releases are considered beneficial to certain fish species.

In harder water these benefits are reduced and the use of a reverse osmosis unit or other form of water purifier, often with the addition of supplements such as phosphoric acid, is normally required to achieve a sufficiently low pH for sensitive blackwater species.

Leaves or alder cones can then be used to provide optimum conditions and will offer much the same benefits as peat.

What about killifishes?

Peat is traditionally used as a medium for spawning and egg storage of annual killifishes but there are a few alternatives of which the most popular is arguably coconut fibre or ‘coir’.

Coconut fibre or ‘coir’ can be used to store killifish eggs © Matias Miika

This is made from the fibrous husk material which surrounds a coconut, is essentially an industrial by-product and although not entirely kind to the environment is at least considered a renewable resource.

It’s usually shipped in the form of compressed bales, briquettes, slabs or discs, is cheap to buy and an excellent medium for eggs although you may need to experiment a little to obtain the best results if accustomed to using peat since it tends to dry at a faster rate.


Lähteenoja, O. and K. H. Roucoux. 2010. Inception, history and development of peatlands in the Amazon Basin. Past Global Changes News 18(1): 27-29

Joosten, H., M-L. Tapio-Biström and S. Tol (eds.). 2012. Peatlands – guidance for mitigation updated report. FAO and Wetlands International: 1-100

Billett, M., D. J. Charman, J. M. Clark, C. Evans, M. Evans, N. Ostle, F. Worrall, A. Burden, K. Dinsmore, T. Jones, N. McNamara, L. Parry, J. Rowson, and R. Rose. 2010. Carbon balance of UK peatlands:  current state of knowledge and future research challenges. Climate Research 45: 13–29

Thanks to Colin Dunlop for comments.

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