CITES Draft Decisions Give Banggai Cardinalfish a Reprieve

A New Chapter for Indonesia and the Pterapogon kauderni fishery? by Ret Talbot originally published

2016 CITES Results for Aquarium Fish and Inverts

As originally published at October 13, 2016 UPDATE: New aquatic species of inter

Banggais & Other Species Targeted for CITES Listings

CITES CoP17, Johannesburg, South Africa, starts tomorrow. This is the 17th Conference of Parties mee


Why Matt Pedersen Is Breeding Banggais, Again?

March 27, 2012 in Project Updates, Slideshow, The Breeding Room

An Unapologetic Introspection

Harlequin Filefish, at 0 hours post hatch above, and 28 days post hatch below, shown to scale.

Harlequin Filefish, at 0 hours post hatch above, and 28 days post hatch below, shown to scale.

While I’m normally pretty humble, for literature’s sake let’s whip out the unabashed ego for a quick credentials check. I’m Matt Pedersen, 2009 MASNA Aquarist of the Year, groundbreaking breeder of Harlequin Filefish (Oxymonacanthus longirostris). Generally, I think of myself as a “professional hobbyist,” an “experimental breeder” who goes off and does brazenly crazy things—like pairing Rock Beauty Angelfish (Holacanthus tricolor) in a 15-gallon round black tub, or buying a half-dozen Powder Blue Tangs (Acanthurus leucosternon), hoping that I will be lucky enough to get a compatible spawning pair, but realizing I may have to find new homes for all those Powder Blues if I can’t get them to cohabitate. I try to do things that can’t be done, and I love proving the naysayers wrong time and time again. I believe that among the people I consider my peers and those I look up to, my track record has given me “license to try”—that, and the fact that I know how to experiment responsibly: there are always plans to back up the backup plans. My experiments are not whims, but are generally well researched beforehand. And perhaps most importantly, I’m not afraid to fail and when I do, I always try to learn why I failed and then share what I learned with the world.

My days as an aquarist are spent pursuing my dreams and pushing the boundaries. Owing to the fact that I am located in the upper Midwest, and thus lack access to wild plankton (one of the main tools that drives breeding research these days), I am certainly at a disadvantage compared to breeding operations situated on the coasts. Being a solo hobbyist, I also lack the ability to leave an experiment in progress. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve left to go give a speech, only to return to a project that failed or rotifers that have once again crashed. With my far-reaching projects, I am resigned  to see what else I can do with existing methodologies. Most of the time I have no delusions that I have the materials to actually go beyond a spawn, but hey, I would have thought that about the filefish, too. Recently, I’ve been thinking a school of Moorish Idols (Zanclus canescens) might be just the ticket for the 300-gallon pond in my basement. While this idea may sound ludicrous to most well-read aquarists, the first reported spawning of the species was by Robert P. L. Straughan in 1976, if not earlier (I have the fourth edition of his book; it’s hard to say which was the first edition to include this spawning report!).

The Foureye Butterflyfish, Chaetodon capistratus, which Pedersen hopes to spawn soon!

The Foureye Butterflyfish, Chaetodon capistratus, which Pedersen hopes to spawn soon!

So my “insanity,” my “crazy ideas” are often rooted in the minutia of information buried in the public record—you just have to have combed through enough of it to be aware of it in the first place! I’ve been patiently working for years on what is arguably my childhood dream fish, the Foureye Butterflyfish (Chaetodon capistratus), with nothing to show for it, but loving every minute of it. I have half the aquarists in the world in excruciating agony, some frustrated to the point of calling me a hack and questioning my ability to breed anything, while they’re forced to let nature take its course with the Lightning Maroon Clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus) from Papua New Guinea.

My History with the Banggai

I bred the Banggai Cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) years ago. One of my fellow aquarists, when learning of my plans, looked at me and said something to this effect: “But you told me you really didn’t want to set these tanks up anytime soon…especially not to breed something you’d already bred or do something everyone else can do.” So what on earth am I doing setting up two new walls of my fish room to house a couple dozen pairs of Banggai Cardinalfish, just so I can breed the proclaimed “guppy” of the marine aquarium world? This fish is certainly beneath my talents, right?

One of Pedersen's original male Banggai Cardinalfish, juggling eggs.

One of Pedersen's original male Banggai Cardinalfish, juggling eggs.

Simply put, the Banggai Cardinalfish is what started it all. It will be what starts a love affair for countless future breeders. It is an incredibly important fish in the breeding world. Untold numbers of hobbyists have been seduced by the notion that the Banggai is indeed the guppy of the marine aquarium. I was blindsided years ago when Banggais still retailed for $300 in my neck of the woods (I know our literature says $100, but I was there, I saw the pricetags on the tanks!)—how amazing to find a few minute but perfectly formed juveniles in our display reef aquarium in the 1990s! I was a cichlid nut in those days, so when I was bitten by the breeding bug years later, given the relative ease with which most mouthbrooding cichlids can be reared, the Banggai (and in fact any cardinalfish, they’re all mouthbrooders) was a must do. Only later did I learn that the Banggai is wholly atypical of the rest of the cardinalfish (with a few exceptions).

Not Everyone Has It Easy

The Banggai Cardinalfish proved to be anything but guppy-like, at least when it comes to ease of propagation. I battled countless problems with my first pair, who refused to hold eggs past a few days. I thought it was a problem with the pair, but when the second pair did the exact same thing, it was maddening. Artificial incubation techniques used for mouthbrooding African cichlid eggs were utter disasters. After about two years of effort, I finally managed to rear a single clutch of Banggai Cardinalfish via artificial incubation. After that, I threw in the towel and moved on to easier things.

Artificially incubated Banggai Cardinalfish eggs.

Artificially incubated Banggai Cardinalfish eggs.

I’ve long since come to learn that I am not alone in my frustrations with Banggai breeding. I’m pretty sure I know exactly what led to my problems back in the day—small, crowded tanks, the hallmark of my crazy breeding technique back then. However, I’m not content to just leave it at that. Maybe it wasn’t the bustle of the community tanks. So many people have problems with Banggai breeding under different conditions. Assuming you can get broodstock that lives, pairing can be daunting, particularly for first-time breeders. Aborted clutches are an extreme problem, and it seems that if a fish gets in that habit, it’s not going to change. To date, there is still no reliable artificial incubation protocol; this must be worked out, not just to address problematic parents, but also to improve commercial and small-scale production of the species. Another area of “mythology” stems from first feedings. There are numerous protocols and ideas, but I’m particularly interested in the methodologies that skip utilizing newly hatched brine shrimp. I’m even more interested in the mythological concept that you might even be able to skip live feeds altogether.

The Two Sides of the Banggai

Pedersen's progeny of artificial incubation - perfect baby Banggai Cardinalfish taking refuge in an artificial sea urchin consisting of cable ties and marine epoxy putty.

Pedersen's progeny of artificial incubation - perfect baby Banggai Cardinalfish taking refuge in an artificial sea urchin consisting of cable ties and marine epoxy putty.

So when I look at the Banggai Cardinalfish, I see a paradox. I see a fish that is supposed to be “super easy.” For some people, it is. They’re the ones who are wondering why we even need a book that goes into great detail on breeding this fish. But because this species is so easy for some, I think we’ve collectively written it off, leaving an entire subset of unanswered questions and many new breeders stumped and lacking answers. For the beginning breeder who gets hung up on the Banggai, particularly with no real hope for help or solutions, that’s where the breeding ends. No success, no forward progress, so it must be the new breeder’s fault—he or she must not be following the “basic recipe” or something. I also think these issues get magnified when you’re trying to produce this fish in quantity. It’s easy enough as a hobbyist to make a dice roll on a single pair of fish and maybe you’re successful, maybe you’re not—the outcome isn’t really relevant, and many casual breeders don’t even talk about their failures (who wants to publicly admit to endless failure?). But once it’s a business, you can’t afford to have half of your pairs failing to produce anything, especially since Banggais are some of the marine fish with the lowest fecundity around—by my estimate, the average pair may produce only 600 potential offspring in their roughly two-year reproductively active lifespan. With so few chances for success (for comparison, the average clownfish may produce 600 eggs every few weeks, for decades), the Banggai breeder really needs to maximize the success of each and every spawn. Every failed spawn is a big setback in the Banggai world.

And this all raises more questions. How can you breed Banggais for profit? I’ve long since been told that it can’t be done, and I’ve repeatedly said it absolutely can be done. I look to freshwater fish with similar requirements for space and rearing, and I see many happy breeders producing and selling fish and none of them complaining about the profit factor. From where I sit, the only real difference is the expense of salt in the water. The math works. So what is it? Is it just that marine breeders are preconditioned to the notion that a clutch of fish should number hundreds or thousands, as it is with clownfish or dottybacks, and thus it seems that producing only 25 Banggai Cardinalfish can’t be profitable? (I like to needle such breeders as lazy…just looking for easy money). Or am I really missing something? Perhaps it’s time to put my money where my mouth is and prove that it is possible to breed Banggais profitably in today’s marketplace.

The Fish at the Epicenter of Conservation

Perhaps most importantly, the Banggai Cardinalfish, and its uncertain future, provides a tremendous springboard to start a dialogue about conservation-minded breeding in the marine ornamental world. We really lack an awareness of the conservation impacts our breeding can have. Thanks to the freshwater aquarium hobby, I have come to understand that commercial demand for a species helps ensure that species’ survival. However, when you’re dealing with an unpopular species, or when that species is not commercially viable for mass aquaculture, the act of producing and preserving a species falls squarely on the shoulders of the private aquarists and mom-and-pop breeders. While I hope it never comes to that for the Banggai Cardinalfish, I cannot avoid presenting concepts and protocols to help ensure genetically stable, long-term captive populations of this species. Even if these protocols never need to be enacted with the Banggai, it’s my hope that the fish breeder who starts with Banggais and is exposed to this knowledge early on will be well armed with understanding and knowledge, should the real need for conservation-minded breeding arise with some rare, unpopular, or troubled species in the future.

So Why Go Whole Hog on a Banggai Breeding Project?

Matt Pedersen, busy assembling new aquarium stands in the fishroom.

Matt Pedersen, busy assembling new aquarium stands in the fishroom.

I could write my contributions to Banggai Rescue without ever breeding another Banggai Cardinalfish. I could confidently stand behind my work. But in truth, that would feel fake. I would feel like I didn’t really give it my all, that I just “phoned it in.” Therefore, when it was decided that I’d address the small-scale breeding portion of this book, I knew I had to become a Banggai breeder once again. I had the space and some of the resources to really do this right, and on a larger scale than most hobbyists would ever attempt. Even with a short time frame to work with, the worst-case scenario might be that I learn nothing new. But the potential for discovery is immense. As much as I quip that I am a very reluctant Banggai breeder, and I may not be breeding any Banggais a year from now, I know that this new investigative breeding is a critical exercise to undertake. It has already turned out to be a great learning experience as I head back to the basement to put more tanks on racks that, a year ago, I would’ve been hesitant to even build. I hope that my newfound confidence will give the reader confidence.

Without a doubt, the hobbyist is what drives the marine aquarium industry. What they do, and what they buy, matters. What they learn when they start can make or break their enjoyment in keeping aquariums. Success breeds success. And when you make the leap from casual aquarist to first-time fish breeder, it’s as if you’re starting out fresh again. It is my hope that through my past experiences, through the collective wisdom of my fellow breeders past and present, and through anything I learn in my Banggai basement, we can arm the marine fish breeder with the best recipes for success with the Banggai Cardinalfish. I want fewer breeders to suffer setback after setback as I did years ago, and I think we can make that a reality. To do so will be time well spent. Who knows what fantastic discovery the next basement breeder may make? The more aquarists get excited about breeding, the faster the innovations will come. Yes, in the end, as much as the Banggai is a goal in itself, it may also be the “gateway drug” for the next generation’s Martin Moe (who many consider the godfather of marine fish breeding).

For the Future of Banggais, and the Future of Marine Fish Breeding Everywhere

Yes, somewhere out there is the next game-changing breeder, and all that could stand in his or her way is success, or failure, with the Banggai Cardinalfish. I want to make sure that first step is a huge success, because I want to meet that future breeder and see what  he or she will do next. If our efforts help ensure the future survival of the Banggai Cardinalfish along the way, all the better.

Project Launch Announcement

March 8, 2012 in Kickstarter Updates, Project Updates


Embargoed until Monday, March 12, 9 AM, Eastern US Time

Rescue Project comes to the aid of the endangered Banggai Cardinalfish

Team of scientists and aquarists will use “crowd-funding” in the marine aquarium and conservation worlds to underwrite research and new book


March 12, 2012

“It’s time to save this fish,” says James Lawrence, as he and an interdisciplinary team of aquarists and marine scientists today announce the launch of a major initiative to prevent the Banggai Cardinalfish, Pterapogon kauderni, from being wiped out in parts of its native range.

An all-new handbook for Banggai Cardinalfish keepers and breeders

Uncommonly beautiful and known for its unusual mouthbrooding reproductive habits, the species was listed as endangered in 2007 by the International Union of Concerned Scientists (IUCN). Uncontrolled harvest for the aquarium trade has been cited as the major threatening factor for a fish with a very limited natural range.

Project BANGGAI RESCUE will send a team on an expedition this May to the remote Banggai Islands in Sulawesi, Indonesia, with several simultaneous missions: assessing the situation; tracking the source of a mysterious disease that kills many Banggai Cardinals collected for the aquarium trade; exploring the possibility of establishing mariculture operations run by local Indonesian families; and collecting healthy broodstock for captive aquaculture research in the United States.

“We need approximately $25,000 for the first stage of this project,” says Lawrence, editor and publisher of CORAL Magazine and head of Reef to Rainforest Media, based in Shelburne, Vermont. “Today we are going live with a campaign to raise funds for the expedition, captive breeding research, and seed money to produce a book covering all aspects of the project.” Coauthors announced today include Ret Talbot, who will be embedded with the expedition, and Matt Pedersen, who is writing new protocols for small-scale breeding of the species. Lawrence says that the science team will be named in the coming weeks.

Entitled BANGGAI RESCUE: Adventures in Bringing Pterapongon kauderni back from the Brink, the book is scheduled for publication in the Spring of 2013. Sales of the book will help fund ongoing research and sustainability initiatives.



Media Resources: Media Release for Monday, March 12, 9 AM Eastern US Time


James Lawrence
802.985.9977 x7

Endangered Status

March 8, 2012 in General Banggai Info, Slideshow

From the International Union of Concerned Scientists, 2007

Key Facts

• Entering the IUCN Red List for the first time, assessed as Endangered.

Banggai Cardinals swarm around a large sea anemone already hosting a pair of anemonefish.

• Found only in the Banggai Archipelago, near Sulawesi, Indonesia.

• Total available area for this species is 34 square kilometers (13 sq miles), naturally distributed in 27 islands, according to Alejandro Vagelli (2005).

• Main cause of decline is fishery for the international aquarium fish trade.

• There has been an 89% reduction in population from the start of the aquarium fishery in 1995–1996 to 2007.

• The present total population size is between 1.8 and 2.2 million individuals.

• Presently, an estimated minimum 700,000–900,000 fish are extracted every year.

• Significant destruction of habitat is occurring due to rampant dynamite fishing throughout its range.

Further reading:

The Banggai Cardinalfish: Natural History, Conservation, and Culture of Pterapogon kauderni, Alejandro Vagelli (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, Chichester, UK)


A Rare Mouthbrooder

March 8, 2012 in General Banggai Info, Slideshow

The Banggai Cardinalfish, Pterapogon kauderni, has an extremely rare mode of reproduction, in which the male incubates a mass of eggs through hatching, metamorphosis, and direct development of fully capable fry.

Male Banggai Cardinal with fry ready for release.

In other mouthbrooding fishes, parental care stops at hatching, after which extremely tiny larvae are released to be carried by tides and currents.

The tiny, newly released Banggai Cardinalfish babies go immediately to the bottom, where they seek protection among the spines of sea urchins, in coral thickets, or in close proximity to the stinging tentacles of sea anemones.

This mode of reproduction explains the extremely limited range of the species. With no larval stage, the usual wide dispersal of marine fish larvae over hundreds or thousands of miles simply does not occur.

The Banggai Cardinalfish is commonly said to have low fecundity, as each spawning results in only 12–60 eggs being brooded by the male. Often fewer than 20 fully developed fry are released per batch. The species breeds year-round, usually on a monthly cycle.

This species is the only reef fish reported to be endangered by collection for the aquarium trade, the explanation being its extremely limited natural range of 34 square kilometers (13 square miles) in shallow waters off 27 islands.

Collection pressure could be relieved on wild populations if more aquarists became involved in captive breeding. One goal of the BANGGAI RESCUE Project is to develop better protocols for captive culture in the Banggai Islands, in commercial aquaculture facilities in developed countries, and by amateur “basement breeders.”

Breeding Challenges

March 5, 2012 in General Banggai Info, Slideshow

The Banggai Cardinalfish, seen in this image by

Banggai babies in a German reef aquarium, newly released from their male parent's mouth.

Daniel Knop, editor of KORALLE, the highly acclaimed German reefkeeping magazine, will spawn readily in an aquarium setting.

The newly released juveniles are tiny, perfect replicas of their parents, and in theory should be easy to breed in captivity.

Because of the low fecundity of the species, very few Banggai Cardinals are being produced either on a large scale or by home breeders.

The BANGGAI RESCUE Project will attempt to change this, with new approaches to mariculture in Indonesia, enhanced commercial production, and a campaign to encourage breeding by home aquarists.

One serious impediment to breeding is the existence of a “mystery disease” that has killed many specimens collected in the wild and shipped to the United States. Many would-be breeders have lost up to 100% of their wild-caught broodstock, often within weeks of acquiring them.

A marine veterinary pathologist will join the BANGGAI RESCUE Expedition in an attempt to track the source of the infections. Higher survival rates could greatly improve the efficiency of the supply chain, to the benefit of collectors, shippers, importers, distributors, local aquarium retailers, breeders, and hobbyists.


Banggai Cardinalfish Fact Sheet

March 5, 2012 in General Banggai Info, Slideshow

Pterapogon kauderni – Koumans, 1933

Discovery I

Banggai Cardinals are vulnerable to many predators and are virtually always found close the bottom.

First collected for science: 1920, by Swedish zoologist Walter A. Kaudern, who sent two preserved specimens to the Leiden Museum of Natural History in the Netherlands, where they were forgotten for 13 years.

Discovery II

Ichthyologist Dr. Frederick Petrus Koumans (1905–1977), curator of fishes at the Leiden Museum, described the species and erected a new genus, Pterapogon (cardinalfish with long fins), and assigned the species name of kauderni in honor of the man who originally collected the fish.

Discovery III

In 1992, dive & travel writer Kal Müller, author of Diving Indonesia, made the first known underwater images of Pterapogon kauderni and sent copies to ichthyologist Dr. Gerald R. Allen for identification.

Discovery IV

Thinking that this was a new species, and an “incredibly beautiful” one at that, Allen kept the fish in mind but was not able to travel to the remote Banggai Archipelago until 1994. Accompanied by underwater photographer Roger Steene, his coauthor on many projects, Allen made the arduous 10-hour ferry trip to Banggai Island. As Müller had reported, the fish could easily be found off the end of a dock in 6 feet of water, under an primitive outhouse, on an oyster farm.

Allen and Steene documented that the species lived in shallow water, on seagrass beds, and in association with Longspined Sea Urchins, Diadema setosum. They also made the startling discovery that this cardinalfish was a mouthbrooder, with the male carrying eggs and fry in his buccal cavity until the young fish could be spat out as fully capable, miniature versions of the adults.

Because this fish lacked the usual larval phase that distributes other coral reef species over huge distances, Allen and Steene were able to explain why the species had never been seen or collected outside of the Banggai Islands.

In researching the species, Allen was surprised to learn of its collection by Kaudern 74 years earlier, and its description and naming by Koumans in 1933.

Discovery V

Aquarium hobbyists and professionals learned of a previously unknown species at the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1995, when Dr. Allen gave a presentation introducing “the Banggai Cardinalfish.”

Aquarists were instantly mesmerized by its beauty, unique color patterns, and unusual reproduction behavior. Literally an overnight sensation, Pterapogon kauderni became one of the most coveted marine species of its day, commanding prices of more than $100 for the early imports.

Given its limited range in the wild, Pterapogon kauderni soon became a species of concern to many observers who feared that it would be vulnerable to overcollection.

Endangered Listing

In 2007 the Banggai Cardinalfish was placed on the IUCN Red List as an Endangered Species, after field surveys found wild populations greatly reduced in some areas and totally absent in others.

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