Snorkel Bob’s Attack on the Aquarium Hobby

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Very recently, Robert Wintner (aka Snorkel Bob) unleashed his furry on the aquarium industry, or as he refers to it, the “Dark Hobby”. In a long-winded editorial piece published on the SeaShepherd.org website, Wintner slams the aquarium hobby, claiming it is not sustainable and has a devastating impact on wild reefs. He even makes the bold comparison that the aquarium industry is much like the Japanese whaling vessels that have the worlds “RESEARCH” on their sides. The idea behind the comparison was that people in hobby use terms like “conservation” and “research” to justify the collecting of wild fish and corals. Snorkel Bob rambles on for quite a while, injecting several unreferenced statistics, his strong opinion, and the occasional white lie. For those who have no long-standing connection with the aquarium hobby, they might actually believe most of what is said. This is quite dangerous and the reader must understand who Robert Wintner is before they form their own opinion.

Wintner is in the tourism industry. He owns Snorkel Bob’s, a company that sells entry-level diving equipment, performs diving excursions, and basically caters to tourists. With this in mind, one might begin to question his motives. Does he really care for the reefs or Hawaii, or is he worried his revenue might decrease because there are divers in the water collecting fish and corals? Where does businessman end and “conservationist” begin? Additionally, the very industry he apparently thrives in is probably more responsible for reef devastation than the aquarium hobby.

Continue reading below for a few of our opinions…

In response to Wintner’s claims that the aquarium hobby is destructive to wild reefs, I have several points I would like to bring up. For starters, doesn’t tourism to remote reef locations also harm the reef? How much gasoline is being pumped into the ocean? How many people are taking live animals or breaking corals they touch or step on? How much garbage gets blown off of the tour boats and into the water? How much sunscreen gets into these pristine reef ecosystems? When you break it all down, tourism is just another harmful thing the ocean has to put up with. It’s certainly not helping the issue.

Secondly, why no mention of aquacultured livestock, beneficial research, and an enhanced knowledge of the reef that has come directly from the hobby? Aquaculturing and mariculturing have certainly helped declining wild reefs. Transplanted corals have replaced corals that died during bleaching events or algae outbreaks. Had there been no aquarium hobby, there would probably not be much of a mariculture or aquaculture industry either. Also, how many aquariums have inspired you children to follow their passions and become biologists or conservationists? I know it worked for me. Because I was enamored by all living things (fish especially), I decided to pursue a career as a marine biologist. I know my case isn’t very common, but it certainly isn’t rare or far fetched. The aquarium hobby has created a lot of well-known conservation minded individuals who have done so much more for wild reefs than Snorkel Bob could ever dream.

All that being said, I will admit there are a few valid points to Snorkel Bob’s arguments, though they are quite misguided and out of touch. The aquarium industry isn’t perfect, nor does it claim to be. A lot of fish die annually because of the hobby, but a lot are also saved. Instead of lambasting the hobby though, we should be looking for ways to improve it. This occurs every single day, but we as hobbyists do need to be more responsible. Research what you intend to purchase. Buy from responsible retailers and avoid those who are only in it to make a buck. Promote captive breeding and aquaculture and try to better your skills as an aquarist so you can share your own corals with the world.

I guess I’ll put my own rant on hold for now. It may even seem all over the place, but it’s hard to conjure up a concise response to someone who has so much hate for something he doesn’t seem to fully understand. The aquarium industry has something to talk about for a while, so let’s get the ideas out there. What do you guys think? Is this hobby sustainable? How else could we improve it?

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  • Jestep

    Having just started with a SW reef tank, I still have mixed feelings about the SW hobby. As far as corals go, they are nearly 100% sustainable. Literally, if another coral was never taken from a reef again, I don't think it would even be a huge problem. It's awesome that corals can be completely sustained by fishkeepers, and that there is so much community in the SW hobby. Once your corals outgrow your tank, you sell or trade them, it's great, and it naturally builds a community around the hobby itself. Community is extremely important when trying to get an idea to take hold.

    I do believe that fish and most other invertebrates are an entirely different story. There's still only a handful of fish that are easily bred, or bred at all in captivity. We are far removed from the reality of the real fish and coral gathering. Sure, there are people that collect fish in an responsible manner, but there are many that drift net them, or use cyanide, electricity, and many other destructive methods. Poor people in poor countries don't often use reasonable methods, because they're just trying to put some food on the table, or send their kids to school, or pay off some warlord. Unfortunately, for them, it doesn't really matter how they get their catch, just that they get it. This is the sort of gathering that we don't see and most of us don't want to know about. Unfortunately, supporting the hobby supports this sort of behavior, even if we don't want to accept that it is happening. There is no captive alternative to many fish, so unless people stop buying wild ones altogether, the referenced article still does have some merit.

    I do agree however, that it is completely unproductive in its criticism. I also don't see how lashing out at fishkeepers helps their position in any way. Once you start pissing everyone off, they will find funding more difficult to get, hence reducing the effectiveness of their mission. Taking a proactive approach to SW fishkeepers would be more professional and would probably receive a better response. When someone yells, nobody listens. If he instead engaged everyone, maybe some people would care about what he is saying.

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