Aquariumtradedata.org is a commitment to understanding the diversity and magnitude of the marine aquarium trade by illuminating and evaluating the global shipping pathways of the trade. This ongoing effort is the culmination of several years of work, tabulating the volume and diversity of marine ornamental species entering the United States of America via aquarium trade pathways.
The lack of comprehensive data related to the marine aquarium trade provided the original impetus for this project. Although compulsory data are maintained under federal mandates for species listed by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), these data are often insufficient, and in many cases represent only a fraction of traded taxa. And although the Law Enforcement Management Information System (LEMIS) contains data for all traded taxa, these data rely on general declared codes from import declarations and are not species-specific. Without species-specific volume and diversity data, it is unclear how importing and exporting governments can effectively oversee this industry. Also, given the paucity of trade data, it is unclear how trade sustainability should be encouraged. Access to meaningful data, such as Aquariumtradedata.org, will allow for immediate feedback regarding trade activity, which will increase public engagement in trade sustainability and guide responsible trade management.
In order to rectify these knowledge gaps, we used a combination of manual entry and OCR software to evaluate trade data from more than 29,000 shipment declarations (form 3-177) and their associated commercial invoices held by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) marked as Marine Aquarium Tropical Fish (MATF) for 2000 (1 month) (2000 data described by Balboa 2003 ), 2004 (7 months), 2005 (5 months), and complete years for 2008, 2009 and 2011, as indicated in the LEMIS database. The resulting comprehensive dataset reveals the volume of species involved in the trade, the number of individuals of each species, from where the species were exported, their ports of import, all with the ability to select specific time periods. Further, Aquariumtradedata.org was designed as a web-based graphical user interface allowing the user to explore these data, which represent 2.7 million marine ornamental animal import records.
One difficulty in compiling yearly statistics for the trade in live aquatic animals is that often datasets are not complete. In the case of the data for this project, incomplete yearly data included 2000 where only fish and invertebrate data existed for October. From June 2004 to May 2005 only fish data were collected. To back-calculate estimated total number of imported fish (2000, 2004, and 2005) or invertebrates (2000) for months where data was not recorded, we determined the proportion of individuals imported during the represented by the time interval (one month for 2000, 7 months for 2004, and 5 months for 2005) based on the three years for which we had a complete 12- month dataset (2008, 2009, and 2011). We then developed a model to estimate the volume of the most traded fish and invertebrates imported during the missing time period. For a detailed explanation please see our blog.
We aim to use Aquariumtradedata.org to galvanize best practices for aquarium trade management and further develop the sustainability of the trade. As such, we have chosen to make these data publically available in an effort to stimulate inquiry and scrutiny to ensure the quality of the data. While Aquariumtradedata.org offers many default visualizations with which to explore the trade pathways, we enhanced its utility by allowing user-generated queries. Further, all content and queries can be (and are encouraged to be) saved, exported, and shared. Should any inconsistencies in the data be discovered, we ask the user to submit error reports for our review, and offending entries will be corrected. The dynamic nature of the aquarium trade demands an equally dynamic method of analysis, and to this end, we hope Aquariumtradedata.org achieves its goal.
This dataset has already inspired multiple publications, which are listed below:
Balboa, C. M. 2003. The consumption of marine ornamental fish in the United States: a description from US import data. IN: Marine Ornamental Species. Collection, Culture and Conservation, 65-76.
Rhyne, A.L., Rotjan, R., Bruckner, A., Tlusty, M.F. 2009. Crawling to collapse: ecologically unsound ornamental invertebrate fisheries. PLoS One 4(12).
Rhyne, A.L., Tlusty, M.F., and Kaufman, L. 2012. Long-term Trends of Coral Imports into the United States Indicate Future Opportunities for Ecosystem and Societal Benefits. Conservation Letters DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2012.00265.x.
Rhyne, A.L., Tlusty, M.F., Schofield, P.J., Kaufman, L., Morris, J.A., Jr., and Bruckner, A.W. 2012. Revealing the Appetite of the Marine Aquarium Fish Trade: The Volume and Biodiversity of Fish Imported into the United States. PloS one 7(5).
Rhyne, A.L., Tlusty, M.F. 2012. Trends in the marine aquarium trade: the influence of global economics and technology. Aquaculture, Aquariums, Conservation & Legislation 5: 99-102.
Tlusty, M.F., Rhyne, A.L., Kaufman, L., Hutchins, M., Reid, G.M., Andrews, C., Boyle, P., Hemdal, J., McGilvray, F., and Dowd, S. 2013. Opportunities for Public Aquariums to Increase the Sustainability of the Aquatic Animal Trade. Zoo Biology 32: 1-12.
Rhyne, A.L., Tlusty, M.F., and Kaufman, L. 2014. Is sustainable exploitation of coral reefs possible? A view from the standpoint of the marine aquarium trade. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 7: 101-107.
Holmberg, R.J., Tlusty, M.F., Futoma, E., Kaufman, L., Morris, J.A., and Rhyne, A.L. 2015. The 800-Pound Grouper in the Room: Asymptotic Body Size and Invasiveness of Marine Aquarium Fishes. Marine Policy 53: 7-12.