Post-MACNA and Banggai Book Update

October 24, 2012 in Project Updates, Slideshow


It’s been a bit too long perhaps since our last update, but those who’ve been following Banggai Rescue on Facebook have gotten many smaller updates over the past several months.

For those of you who didn’t make it to MACNA a couple weeks ago, Banggai Rescue authors Ret Talbot and Matt Pedersen, and artist Karen Talbot, were all on hand talking about our project.  Ret Talbot’s presentation at MACNA – Cardinal Directions – was the first in-depth insight into the team’s journey to the Banggai Traingle (as dubbed by Dr. Matt Wittenrich).  Ret is currently giving this presentation around the country at various local aquarium clubs – be sure to catch it if you can.

Pedersen’s presentation, The Aquarium Ark, touched on issues of breeding the Banggai Cardinalfish (Pterapogon kaudernii) with regards to conservation and genetic integrity. Karen Talbot created a fantastic birch-board painting of a Banggai Cardinalfish during the three days at MACNA, this original work was one of the Sunday raffle prizes at the end of the show.

Conservation artist Karen Talbot with the Banggai Cardinalfish piece she did during the three days of MACNA in Dallas. Image: Ret Talbot.

Conservation artist Karen Talbot takes pause to pose with an in-progress Banggai Cardinalfish piece she ultimately completed during the three days of MACNA in Dallas, TX. Image: Ret Talbot.

As many of you are hopefully already aware, the team opted to push back the publication of our book for, among other reasons, the need to wait for a data set to be completed.  But we didn’t want you to think that nothing has been happening.  This project generated no less than 8,000 images (Matt Pedersen alone), so more likely the team produced tens-of-thousands of images to be sorted through.

Most of the book is written at this time as well; again, we’re waiting on a few key puzzle pieces to come together to wrap it up.  I think everyone agrees that rushing to produce a semi-complete book, simply to hit an arbitrary deadline of being ready for “MACNA”, wouldn’t have been the right choice.

We thought you might appreciate a digital sneak peak of our work. MACNA attendees received a large tri-fold Banggai Rescue handout at the show, and you can download a full digital PDF version here.

The Banggai Triangle

July 10, 2012 in Project Updates, Slideshow, The Expedition

Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D. and a local fisher at Bone Baru village in the Banggai Islands discuss the Banggai cardinalfish fishery while consulting a chart

Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D. and a local fisher at Bone Baru village in the Banggai Islands discuss the Banggai cardinalfish fishery while consulting a chart

The Banggai cardinalfish is a unique fish for many reasons, not the least of which is the extremely restricted geographic range this species has historically occupied. This is a fact the Banggai Rescue international science team saw firsthand today as we travelled by speedboat from our field headquarters in Bone Baru village in the north of the Banggai Archipelago to Bone Bone village in the southeast, Toropot village in the southwest, and then back to Bone Baru.

“Within the Coral Triangle, recognized as a global priority for conservation, lies a much smaller, lesser known triangle,” remarks Banggai Rescue international science team member Dr. Matthew Wittenrich, Ph.D., as our boat completes the last leg of what he has just coined ‘the Banggai triangle.’

“Marked by three not-so-distant villages, the Banggai triangle is incredibly important in the future conservation of Pterapogon kauderni,” muses Wittenrich, who points out the area contained by the Banggai Triangle encompasses an area smaller than the footprint of an average US county. “The Banggai triangle holds more than seventy percent of the world’s population of wild Banggai cardinalfish.”

As our boat alters course slightly to quarter a building swell, the late afternoon light bathes the interior of the cabin in a golden hue. Although tired from a full day on (and in) the water, the fact we just covered the bulk of the Banggai cardinalfish fishery in a single day is not lost on any of us. Given that the geographic extent of the fishery is fairly consistent with the geographic extent of the fish’s endemic range, the potential impact of the fishery on the species is profound. This is especially the case given the lack of effective fishery management, the level of illegal fishing we have observed, and what we have seen in the way of collateral damage to appropriate Banggai cardinalfish habitat secondary to destructive fishing practices (e.g., blast fishing and cyanide fishing).

Local children look on as Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D. photographs Banggai cardinalfish in a less-than-pristine canal running through Monsongan village in the Banggai Islands

Local children look on as Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D. photographs Banggai cardinalfish in a less-than-pristine canal running through Monsongan village in the Banggai Islands

“In virtually every example I can think of where an animal is collected in high numbers,” says Wittenrich, “there is typically somewhere in the remote reaches of its native range where the species exists in a relatively ‘natural’ state. The Banggai cardinalfish is being exploited through the entirety of its range.”

While we are confident the samples we have collected throughout the fishery will yield concrete results that will help us better understand the species and the virus which is contributing to well-documented mortality in trade, our attempts to better understand the fishery itself by conducting interviews with fishers, fishery managers and others involved with aspects of the Banggai cardinalfish trade has, at this point, yielded more questions than answers.

Can the Banggai cardinalfish fishery in the Banggai Islands sustain current levels of fishing for the marine aquarium trade, especially given other pressures on the resource such as illegal and destructive fishing practices and land-based threats like uncontrolled clearing of native forests for agriculture? Will the recommended reduced monthly quotas proposed by local stakeholders be adopted? If the quotas are adopted, will the resources be available to enforce those quotas? Are the recommended quotas consistent with what the science shows to be sustainable harvest levels? What impacts has the introduction of culled, confiscated and captive bred Banggai cardinalfish had on the naturally occurring populations?

We could go on and on.

Banggai Rescue International Science Team Member Yunaldi Yahya, M.Sc. at Bone Bone Village

Banggai Rescue International Science Team Member Yunaldi Yahya, M.Sc. at Bone Bone Village

The Banggai Islands are a place of sublime beauty, and while we no doubt appreciate this splendor as we close in on the rugged magnificence of Banggai Island and the promise of another delicious dinner provided by our hosts in Bone Baru, we’d be dishonest if we did not acknowledge today has left each of us somewhat disheartened. By no means are we suggesting the Banggai cardinalfish, its fishery or the fishers and fisher communities who depend on it are a lost cause, but there is much work to do. We, the Banggai Rescue International Science Team, now more than ever feel a deep responsibility to contribute meaningfully to the ongoing dialog about this very special fish and, in turn, the aquarium trade that has, most recently, put this species on the map.

Stay tuned, as you can rest assured there is lots more to come.

To see more photos and brief updates from the team in the field, be sure to “like” the Banggai Rescue Facebook Page.

Fish Quarantine and Inspection Agency

Banggai Triangle

Observing Wild Banggai Cardinalfish in Banggai Islands!

July 3, 2012 in Project Updates, Slideshow, The Expedition

A Banggai cardinalfish observed in shallow water by the Banggai Rescue International Science Team off Banggai Island

A Banggai cardinalfish observed in shallow water by the Banggai Rescue International Science Team off Banggai Island

The KM. Valentine 2, a presumably seaworthy ferry with a perceptible list softened somewhat by a cheery complement of passengers and crew, slipped its berth amid the rush and bustle of Luwuk Harbour at just after 9 pm. Bound for Salakan, the capital of the Banggai Islands, the ferry’s three decks are abuzz with activity. Banggai Rescue’s international expeditionary team gathers at the stern beneath an inky black sky punctuated by a swath of bright stars. Only one member of the team, Yunaldi Yahya, M.Sc., had spent time previously in the Banggai Archipelago, so the rest of us are a bit like kids on Christmas Eve.

After so much time dedicated to studying and working with the Banggai cardinalfish, it is hard to believe it is nearly here—the moment we will see the fish in its namesake isles.

The Banggai Islands, a vestigial set of microcontinental plates severed from the northern extent of New Guinea, collided with Sulawesi sometime in the Late Miocene…or so we’ve read. This geologic fender-bender created a deep ocean trench between mainland Sulawesi and the Banggai Islands, and this deepwater is thought to be one of the barriers that has contained the Banggai cardinalfish within the Banggai archipelago. For most of the Team, crossing this trench is significant, for it represents a concrete demarcation between the wild Banggais we had already observed outside the species’ endemic range and the ones we will soon be seeing living within their native habitat.

Arriving in Salakan a little after one a.m., the Team, bleary-eyed and luggage-laden, slouched down dirt streets in a sleepy haze to a nearby hotel for a few hours of sleep before meeting up with our contacts from Fisheries in the morning. Thanks to the work and relationships established through our host organization—Yayasan Alam Indonesia Lestari (LINI)—we have a local Fisheries’ speedboat at our disposal throughout our stay in the Banggai Islands, making it possible to cover a large portion of the archipelago in a compressed timeframe.

While no doubt tired after the long trip from Bali to Sulawesi and eventually onward to the Banggai Islands, it’s no problem getting out of bed at first light. We are finally here—in the Banggai Islands. Re-tracing our steps back to Salakan’s small harbour, we eagerly boarded a remarkably comfortable and fast boat for the trip around the northern extent of the island of Peleng to the village of Bone Baru on Banggai Island. Bone Baru has become the de facto epicenter of the legal Banggai cardinalfish fishery, although, as we have previously reported and will discuss at length in the book, the majority of the actual fishery remains illegal.

U.S.-based scientists and Banggai Rescue International Science Team members Roy Yanong, V.M.D., Tom Waltzek, VMD, Ph.D. and Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D. arrive in Bone Baru ready to dive in (literally)

U.S.-based scientists and Banggai Rescue International Science Team members Roy Yanong, V.M.D., Tom Waltzek, VMD, Ph.D. and Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D. arrive in Bone Baru ready to dive in (literally)

Making fast to the long pier extending from the village’s main street, we disembark and made our way into town. Invited to join some of the locals for decadently sweet hot coffee and the always amusingly awkward conversation resulting from loose translations, gesticulations and plenty of laughter, we immediately fall in love with Bone Baru and its residents whose kindness and generosity appears to know no bounds. This will be a very good base of operations for the Banggai Rescue international science team while in the Banggai Islands.

As charmed as we are with the village, and as much as we are enjoying getting to know its residents, we’d be lying if we didn’t acknowledge our burning desire to get in the water, where we are confident we will come face-to-face in short order with the objects of our study. Happy to oblige, a few local fishers accommodate our request, and soon we are donning masks, snorkels and fins and heading out over the shallow grass flats and sandy bottom of Bone Baru’s shallow bay.

Within moments, the first populations of Banggai cardinalfish come into view. Hosting around coral colonies and anemones living within the grass beds, it is difficult to move on from one grouping to the next. The groups themselves are not terribly large, but each provides an opportunity to assess, observe and simply be enchanted by the fish’s distinctive (and, anthropogenically-speaking, “cute”) pulsing movements closely choreographed with a persistent gentle swell and the undulations of the long blades of seagrasses against a kaleidoscopic backdrop of shoals of small fishes surging through the sun-slivered shallows.

Bone Baru has become the de facto epicenter of the Banggai Cardinalfish fishery and is the field headquarters of the Banggai Rescue International Science Team while in the Banggai Archipelago

Bone Baru has become the de facto epicenter of the Banggai Cardinalfish fishery and is the field headquarters of the Banggai Rescue International Science Team while in the Banggai Archipelago

As mesmerized as we are, the need to return to work soon gets the best of us. A couple local fishers are kind enough to show us the various collection techniques they have traditionally used to fish for Banggais. For anyone familiar with the species and its behavior, it will not come as a surprise to hear us report on how easy it is to collect very large numbers of this fish in extremely short order. Of course this is one of the primary concerns about the fishery and its sustainability. While there is a proposed quota of 15,000 Banggai cardinalfish leaving the Banggai Islands through the Fish Quarantine and Inspection office per month, we know from our previous interviews with exporters and middlemen in both Bali and Java that the actual numbers are far larger.

Still, we are encouraged to learn from the fishers in Bone Baru that there have been changes to the fishery that are moving it toward greater sustainability. The question, of course, is are these changes significant enough and happening quickly enough to positively impact the endemic population.

We are very much looking forward to the upcoming days of observing and sampling Banggai cardinalfish populations from across the species’ endemic range. Of course it will be important to see if we can identify the Banggai cardinalfish iridovirus (BCIV) in wild populations within the Banggai Islands, but it will also be noteworthy to hear anecdotal reports from a wide variety of fishers about the fishery. Relying in part on team member Yunaldi Yahya’s experience mapping Banggai cardinalfish distribution and densities throughout the islands, we will hopefully have a rare, first-hand look at places where the species is doing better and, unfortunately, places where local extirpation has occurred.

Stay tuned for more information from the Team, and thanks again for your invaluable support of this important project!


Luwuk Harbor Population of Banggai Cardinalfish Observed

June 28, 2012 in Project Updates, Slideshow, The Expedition

Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich photographs Banggai Cardinalfish in Luwuk Harbor, Sulawesi.

Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich photographs Banggai Cardinalfish in Luwuk Harbor, Sulawesi.

Banggai Rescue Science Team Field Report from Luwuk, Sulawesi – June 2012 –

As we’ve come to expect, it didn’t take long for U.S.-based scientists who are part of the Banggai Rescue (BR) international science team to find Banggai cardinalfish in Sulawesi. Upon arriving in Luwuk (Central Sulawesi) by increasingly smaller aircraft from Denpasar in Bali, the U.S.-based BR team members had most of a day to kill before meeting up with their Indonesian counterparts and heading by ferry to the Banggai Islands. What to do?

Look for Banggais, of course!

An introduced population of Banggai cardinalfish in Luwuk Harbour is oft-cited in the literature, and we suspected it would not be hard to find. So we arranged for a car and driver, loaded up the gear and headed out armed with pictures of the species on our phones and a rough approximation of local and trade names. We stopped at several places inquiring about the fish, and while the language barrier certainly exacerbated the situation, the fact a couple of Americans wanted to see a small fish in the busy and polluted harbour proper as opposed to diving on a nearby near-pristine reef was our biggest obstacle. Finally, with a little more directive leadership, we turned away from the road headed out of town toward the pristine reefs and instead made our way down to Luwuk’s port proper.

The harbour, chiselled against a backdrop of dense mountain forest, was hot with a miasma of odors colliding beneath a blue sky fringed by cumulus clouds skirting the horizon. Wide wood planked piers cut amidst a tapestry of brightly colored ferries and fishing boats, small traditional craft and a handful of government vessels. Flotsam sloshed in the shallows where freshwater runoff mixed with the stagnant backwater against the stone quay. Plastic bottles, foil wrappers and other sundry trash items were punctuated by the occasional fish carcus and a virtual Smörgåsbord of discarded food waste

Perhaps we wouldn’t get in the water here.

Our team, most of us glaringly white and no doubt wide-eyed by the sudden assault on the senses, elicited curious stares from locals who clearly don’t see a lot of tourists poking around the Harbour with cameras. Undaunted, we approached the water’s edge with eager anticipation. From several meters away, the blackspine sea urchin clumps were easy to see. A little closer, and there was no doubt there were fish hovering about the urchin clumps. A little closer…and…definitely Banggai cardinalfish…

…and lots of them!

While these were not the first Banggais we have seen in the wild in Indonesia (we’ve observed three other wild populations in Bali), seeing them here was still a thrill. After studying this animal for so long and from so many different perspectives, all of us could barely contain our enthusiasm. Pointing and talking in excited bursts, snapping photographs of what could only be described as severely degraded habitat, we must have provided Luwuk’s monthly quota of entertainment in a few short moments.

What is often referred to as a small population of “unknown origins” in Luwuk Harbor, appeared to be alive and well, and depending upon how one defines small, it appears anything but. As we travelled around the harbor, we consistently saw Banggai cardinalfish sheltering around urchins less than a meter from shore in shallow water. While there is some speculation in the literature that this could be an endemic population, the latest research (both scientific and sociological) seems to point to an introduction by traders in Banggai cardinalfish destined for the marine aquarium trade.

As previously reported, the Team has now observed two of the four or five sites where we have heard introduced populations of Banggais are thriving. In addition, the team observed Banggais in a location in North Bali we have not seen cited in the literature. These introduced populations–especially the now infamous Lembeh Straits population to the north–have, of course, been a significant talking point in the ongoing debate about the species and its conservation status. With introduced populations doing so well even in areas with such abysmal water quality, could this truly be a species on the verge of collapse? This is a line of reasoning put forth by some, including some members of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Agency for Marine and Fisheries Research we have interviewed in Indonesia as part of our research.

Of course, as others have pointed out in the literature, this is a complex question. Without looking at extensive population data and understanding the significance and origins of introduced populations versus endemic populations–without understanding the genetic diversity and the genetic flow (or lack thereof) of sub-populations of the species–a rush to judgement could be very damaging to the species’ future. As has been frequently reported, this is a species believed to have an extremely limited endemic distribution. When one combines this with the fish’s high site fidelity and mouthbrooding characteristics (e.g., individuals don’t move very far from their parents throughout their entire life cycle), re-stocking (especially if the stock represent trader’s culled fish as is believed to be the case in at least one situation) or in-situ culturing initiatives could have deleterious impacts on the species overall genetic diversity. Throw the virus we are here to research into the equation, and fishery aside, it could easily be argued this a fish that needs a management plan to ensure its fitness into the future.

Filled with renewed excitement for the Banggai Rescue Project and our role in that Project, the U.S.-based team members headed back to the rendezvous point with our Indonesian counterparts. Tonight we are off to the Banggai Islands by ferry.

Stay tuned, as you can rest assured there is lots more to come.

To see more photos and brief updates from the team in the field, be sure to “like” the Banggai Rescue Facebook Page.

Banggai Rescue Update from Indonesia!

June 18, 2012 in Project Updates, Slideshow, The Expedition

Banggai Rescue Team and more, on location in Indonesia - photo by Ret Talbot

Banggai Rescue Team and more, on location in Indonesia - photo by Ret Talbot

Banggai Rescue is now in full swing, and we’re excited to share our adventures and investigations with you! As you know, Matthew Pedersen is hard at work in the fish room in Minnesota, Karen Talbot is working on scientific illustrations in California, the U.S.-based scientific team is now on the ground and collaborating with their Indonesian counterparts in Bali, and Jame Lawrence, in Vermont, is keeping us all moving in the right direction toward our publication deadline. We have already learned so much about the species, the culturing of the species, the trade in the species, and the socio-economic and environmental impacts of that trade, and yet it seems like every time we discover something new (or confirm something we have heard anecdotally), a whole new string of questions arise. While this could seem daunting, if not downright depressing, we on the Banggai Rescue team have embraced the conundrum of the Banggai Cardinalfish with enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity and plain old excitement!

The team in Indonesia is learning that, as expected, there are more unknowns about the Banggai cardinalfish than knowns. Sure, we know it is a beguiling fish with a set of fascinating biological characteristics. We believe it is a species endemic to a very limited area (the Banggai Archipelago to the east of Central Sulawesi, Indonesia) but introduced populations are on the rise. We know that since 2003-04, there has been a sharp increase in mortality of Banggai cardinalfish in public aquaria, aquaculture facilities and in the marine ornamental trade the world over. We know much of this mortality is directly related to a relatively indiscriminate and alarming virus with repercussions that extend far beyond marine ornamentals with potential impacts to food and recreational fisheries.

But where is the virus originating? How can healthy Banggai cardinalfish broodstock be be reliably obtained for home and commercial aquaculture and the marine aquarium trade? Is the virus a threat to wild populations? What is the real impact of the trade on endemic populations, host ecosystems, and local fishers and fisher communities? What are the potential impacts of what we are learning on Indonesia’s marine aquarium trade, and how is the Banggai cardinalfish emblematic of trade-wide issues that require greater transparency and wider discussion? These questions are ones that keep team members up late into the night discussing, debating and hypothesising, and with so many unique backgrounds and skill sets in play, these discussions are yielding truly exciting, interdisciplinary and novel approaches to the larger discussion about the Banggai cardinalfish.

In terms of nuts and bolts, the U.S.-based scientists arrived in Indonesia on Friday and Saturday, making the Indonesian expeditionary team complete. After meeting with Banggai Rescue’s in-country sponsor, Gayatri Reksodihardjo Lilley of Yayasan Alam Indonesia Lestari (Indonesian Nature Foundation or LINI) on Saturday morning, we headed to West Bali and then Java and the town of Banyuwangi on Selat Bali (Bali Straits), where several marine aquarium trade export facilities deal regularly with Banggai cardinalfish and where there are reports of introduced Banggai cardinalfish populations living in the wild. On Monday morning, we were hosted by the Gondol Research Institute for Mariculture in North Bali (GRIM), where one of the Indonesian scientists who will be working closely with the U.S.-based scientists in the Banggai Islands is based. The entire team was very impressed with the facility and the scientists who work there (more to come on our visit), and we are looking forwar d to collaborating fully with them. On Tuesday, the U.S.-based scientists, based on information provided by our Indonesian counterparts, set out to observe more introduced populations in Bali before briefly returning to the south and tomorrow’s flight to the Banggai Islands.

We will try to post another update before leaving for the Banggai Archipelago, but from here on out, Internet connection may be spotty at best. Rest assured we will be documenting all our activities, and we will update you when we are able. Thank you again for your interest and support of this important project. While we may be a small group made up of passionate scientists, fish breeders, aquarists, a journalist, an artist, and a publisher, we very much feel as if you all our part of the Team! Stay tuned…

Don’t forget to “like” the Banggai Rescue Facebook Page for more updates and photos from Indonesia.

Banggai Rescue Kickstarter Reward Surveys Sent Out

June 18, 2012 in General Banggai Info, Kickstarter Updates, Project Updates, Slideshow, The Expedition

Dr. Roy Yanong, DMV and Dr. Tom Waltzek, VMD, Ph.D., speaking with one of their Indonesian counterparts at the Gondol Research Centre for Mariculture (GRIM) in Bali, Indonesia. Photograph by Ret Talbot.

Dr. Roy Yanong, DMV and Dr. Tom Waltzek, VMD, Ph.D., speaking with one of their Indonesian counterparts at the Gondol Research Centre for Mariculture (GRIM) in Bali, Indonesia. Photograph by Ret Talbot.

The Banggai Rescue team is in Indonesia and is headed further afield to the Banggai Islands later this week.

To all our loyal Kickstarter Backers, the time has come to collect your reward info so we can start delivering on our promises.  Our first wave of thanks and appreciation is coming in the form of a handwritten postcard sent by the expedition team during their time in Indonesia.  For those of you who backed us at higher levels, the rest of your rewards are still estimated for a September, 2012 delivery at this time.

Be sure to fill out your reward surveys completely, fully, and promptly to ensure you get everything we owe you without delay!   It takes only a minute to complete.  If you didn’t get the email from Kickstarter, please do check your spam folders and either post a comment here, shoot us a message on Kickstarter, hit up our Banggai Cardinalfish Rescue Facebook page, you name it.

Keep a lookout for updates from the entire Banggai Rescue team in the coming days and weeks as the project continues to move forward.

Eight Experts Named to Banggai Rescue Science Team

May 16, 2012 in Project Updates, Slideshow, The Expedition

Clockwise from top left:  Craig Watson, Dr. Matt Wittenrich, Dr. Roy Yanong, Gayatri Lilley, Dr. Tom Waltzek, and Eric Cassiano

Expedition to Indonesia Set for June 2012. Team includes marine aquaculturists, aquatic veterinarians, and marine fisheries scientists

SHELBURNE, Vermont With an ultimate goal of getting the Banggai Cardinalfish safely off the endangered species list, the Banggai Rescue Project today announced its science team, based at the University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory in Ruskin, Florida, and Bali, Indonesia.

Craig A. Watson, M.Aq., director and research coordinator for the University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory, known as UF/TAL, will head up planning for the team’s expedition and research into health and captive breeding issues and methods. Craig has a master’s degree in aquaculture from Auburn University, and is the author of a number of papers on aquaculture and fish health issues.

Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D., a larval fish physiologist also at UF/TAL, will be looking at the potential to encourage mariculture of the species by native peoples in the Banggai Islands, as well as setting up an experimental Banggai Cardinal breeding facility in Florida. Matt is currently working with the Rising Tide Conservation Initiative raising marine ornamental fishes from eggs collected by public aquaria members of the American Zoological Association.

Roy Yanong, V.M.D., is an aquatic animal veterinarian and a long-time tropical fish enthusiast working with UF/TAL. He has been studying the “mystery disease” responsible for killing many wild-caught Banggai Cardinals soon after their purchase by aquarium retailers, breeders, and hobbyists. He will attempt to trace the source of a virus in the supply chain between the islands and import facilities in Los Angeles. He and Matt hope to acquire a quantity of healthy broodstock while on the expedition. Roy received his veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Eric Cassiano, M.Sc. is a marine biologist with an interest in marine ornamental fish larvaculture. He will be working with captive reproduction and large-scale techniques.

Tom Waltzek, VMD, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral researcher and aquatic veterinary virologist. Tom
has worked extensively with iridoviral diseases, including the virus suspected to be responsible for fatal disease in wild-caught Banggai cardinalfish. He and Roy Yanong will be working closely together on tracking the origin of the lethal iridovirus.

Indonesian Marine Science Experts

Gayatri Reksodihardjo-Lilley is a marine conservation and fisheries expert and founder of LINI, the Indonesian Nature Foundation. She will coordinate the Banggai rescue work in Indonesia with the field team, and provide an ongoing link for the project with Indonesian scientists and fisheries personnel on the ground, and in the waters of the Banggai Islands.

Yunaldi Yahya, M.Sc. is one of the very few experienced Indonesian fisheries scientists specializing in reef monitoring, fish identification, and reef survey methodologies. Yunaldi has spent much time in the Banggai Islands, mapping BCF distribution and densities.

Ketut Mahardika Ph.D., is a fish pathologist, working with The Gondol Research Institute for Mariculture. He will be working with the Banggai field team, taking samples for analysis in the laboratorium in Gondol.

Marine Aquarists Funding Pro Bono Science

“We are very proud to be able to help sponsor this impressive international team,” says James Lawrence, editor and publisher of CORAL Magazine and head of Reef to Rainforest Media, based in Shelburne, Vermont. “We have found strong support and financial backing in the marine aquarium community to provide funds for the expedition, captive breeding research, and seed money to produce a book covering all aspects of the project.”

Those joining the June 2012 expedition to the Banggai Islands include Drs. Matt Wittenrich and Roy Yanong, as well as the Indonesian marine biologists. CORAL Senior Editor Ret Talbot will be embedded as the writer with the expedition.

“This is all being made possible by the leadership of the UF/TAL scientists working hand-in-hand with Indonesian biologists as well as the generosity of many parties,” said Lawrence. “Our fundraising campaign on brought in $33,000, more than 30% over the initial goal, thanks in large part to the readers and sponsors of Coral Magazine.”

The Book: Foreword by Dr. Gerry Allen

Members of the Banggai Rescue team not accompanying the expedition include Matt Pedersen, who is conducting small-scale breeding work with Pterapogon kauderni in Minnesota, and Lawrence, who is overseeing creation and publication of the book in Vermont.

Ichthyologist Dr. Gerald R. Allen, left, who rediscovered the species and introduced it to the aquarium world in 1995-96, and who currently works with Conservation International doing biodiversity surveys, will act as a senior advisor to the project and will write the foreword to the book.

Entitled, BANGGAI Rescue, Adventures in bringing Pterapongon kauderni back from the brink, the book is scheduled for publication in time for the annual Marine Aquarium Conference of North America in Dallas/Fort Worth, at the end of September. Sales of the book will help fund ongoing research and sustainability initiatives.



April 6, 2012 in Kickstarter Updates, Project Updates, Slideshow

A pair of Banggai Cardinalfish pose in front of a sea anemone. Image Credit: Scott Michaels

Courting pair of Banggai Cardinalfish, Pterapogon kauderni. Image by Scott W. Michael

American Marinelife Dealers Association
Backs Project with $3,500 Contribution

April 6, 2012 

The American Marinelife Dealers Association (AMDA) pledged late last week to back the Banggai Rescue Project at the $3,500 level, making AMDA one of the Project’s larger backers. Almost 150 individuals, associations, retail stores, and others have pledged more than $31,000 in support of Banggai Rescue. The AMDA contribution pushed the total raised over the $30,000 mark.

Previously, a very generous contribution by the Rev. Jeanne Warner, a Wisconsin reefkeeper, had helped the Project meet its $25,000 goal. Aquarist Peter Hyne from Toronto is a backer at the $2,500 level, and, outside of the Kickstarter Project, Michael Del Prete of Aqua Craft Products donated more than $5,000 worth of Marine Environment Dual Phase Marine Salt for Banggai Cardinalfish small-scale breeding research. Additionally, Ecoxotic and Current USA have teamed up to pledge over $2500 in safe, low-voltage, highly efficient LED lighting to illuminate the small scale breeding systems.

AMDA, founded in 1995 by John Tullock, is a non-profit organization promoting sustainable trade in living marine aquarium organisms. “Given its mission, AMDA is a perfect fit for the Banggai Project, which will be looking at, among other things, sustainability issues within the Banggai Cardinalfish trade as a microcosm of the industry at large,” said Project writer Ret Talbot, who will be embedded with the science team on a research expedition to the Banggai Islands.

AMDA - American Marinelife Dealers Association - LogoWhile AMDA has not been a high-profile name in the marine aquarium trade over the past several years, a restructuring of the Association aims to position AMDA as a key player in establishing a truly robust and sustainable marine aquarium trade based on best practices, effective education, quality livestock, responsible husbandry, and increases in captive breeding.

“We are pleased to support Banggai Rescue because the project encapsulates AMDA’s original mission and goals as an organization which are still relevant today,” says Liz Harris, secretary of the AMDA Board of Directors and owner of Creatures Featured in Madison, Florida.

Backers of Kickstarter projects receive various levels of rewards from the organizers, but do not become actual investors. The Kickstarter funding period will end Sunday, April 8.

Banggai Rescue on Kickstarter

We still invite people to back this work,” says Lawrence, head of Reef to Rainforest Media, based in Shelburne, Vermont. “Our hope is use additional funds to support on-going work with local conservation groups in the Banggai Islands who are struggling to fund education and collection enforcement programs in the native range of Pterapogon kauderni.

KICKSTARTER: The Banggai Rescue Project

BANGGAI Rescue Website

Banggai Rescue: USE OF FUNDS

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Banggai Rescue Reaches Kickstarter Goal Today

March 28, 2012 in Kickstarter Updates, Project Updates, Slideshow

Wild shoal of mixed ages of Banggai Cardinalfish in Sulawesi, Indonesia

BANGGAI RESCUE A KICKSTART SUCCESS – Project Raises $25,000 to Come to the Aid of the Endangered Banggai Cardinalfish

Team of scientists and aquarists will use “crowd funding” from the marine aquarium world to underwrite research and new book

March 28, 2012

“We are elated to announce that the Banggai Rescue Project™ has made its initial fundraising goal of $25,000,” says CORAL editor James Lawrence, as he and an interdisciplinary team of aquarists and marine scientists have set out on a major initiative to prevent the Banggai Cardinalfish, Pterapogon kauderni, from being wiped out in parts of its native range.

The funds raised to date come from more than 120 backers via the Kickstarter “crowd funding” web site, with contributions ranging from $1 to more than $10,000. Pushing the amount raised over its goal was the generous participation of The Rev. Jeanne Warner, right, a Lutheran pastor from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Warner is a passionate aquarist, with a 350-gallon reef aquarium, as well as a believer in the importance of sustainable collection practices in the source countries that supply the marine trade. She says her backing comes “for the sake of this species, as well as for the fishers and Indonesian families whose livelihood depends on it.”

Rev. Jeanne Warner, Project Banggai Backer

Rev. Jeanne Warner, Project Banggai Rescue Backer

“We are called to be good stewards of this planet,” says Warner. “As a marine aquarist and diver, this is a way for me to help save the planet.”

Backers of Kickstarter projects receive various levels of rewards from the organizers, but do not become actual investors.

In this case the rewards range from hand-signed postcards from the Banggai Islands expedition to advance copies of the Banggai Rescue book, limited edition artwork of Banggai Cardinalfish, and presentations to local groups by the coauthors of the book. Contributions are still encouraged here.

Uncommonly beautiful and with 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, including scientists and an embedded journalist, on an expedition in 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 possibilities of establishing mariculture operations run by local Indonesian families; and collecting healthy broodstock for captive aquaculture research in the United States.

First team members named, left to right: Ret Talbot, Matt Pedersen, James Lawrence, and Karen Talbot.

First book project leaders named, left to right: Ret Talbot, Matt Pedersen, James Lawrence, and Karen Talbot.

“We still invite people to support this work,” says Lawrence, head of Reef to Rainforest Media, based in Shelburne, Vermont. “Our hope is to be able to continue on-going work with local conservation groups in the Banggai Islands who are struggling to fund education and collection enforcement programs in the native range of Pterapogon kauderni.”

Coauthors of the book include Talbot, who will accompany and document the Expedition, marine breeder Matt Pedersen, with the senior science participants to be named in coming weeks. Natural history conservation artist Karen Talbot will produce a series of portraits of the Banggai Cardinalfish for the book and as rewards for Kickstarter backers.

The project has the support of Dr. Gerald R. Allen, world-renowned ichthyologist now working for Conservation International, who re-discovered the species in a remote archipelago in Indonesia in 1995. Gayatri Reksodihardjo-Lilley, the head of Yayasan Alam Indonesia Lestari (LINI), the Indonesian Nature Federation, has also welcomed the project to her country.

Become a Banggai Rescue Backer on Kickstarter

New Banggai Breeder’s Guide

Pedersen, winner of the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America Aquarist of the Year Award in 2009 for his pioneering successes in breeding marine fishes and as an advocate for captive culture of popular aquarium species, will stay home in Duluth, Minnesota, to write the hands-on husbandry and breeding sections of the book.

A significant part of the project is Pedersen’s work with 20 pairs of Banggai Cardinalfish that will allow him to revisit existing protocols and pitfalls in the propagation of the species. Pedersen seeks to establish a modern breeding approach that private aquarists and small commercial breeders throughout the world can leverage.

Banggai Rescue Cover

“When this species first entered the aquarium trade in the mid-1990s, we all thought it would prove to be the Marine Guppy,” says Lawrence, who will edit the book and write an introduction to the endangered species, whose wild populations have been severely impacted by aquarium collectors and reportedly wiped out in some areas. “The fact is, very few captive-bred Banggai Cardinals are being produced by U.S. aquaculture operations, and we hope to change that, while at the same time supporting source country culturing efforts.”

Entitled, Banggai Rescue, Adventures in bringing Pterapongon kauderni back from the brink, the book is scheduled for publication in time for the annual Marine Aquarium Conference of North America in Dallas/Fort Worth, at the end of September. Sales of the book will help fund ongoing research and sustainability initiatives.

“We are especially pleased to have the endorsement and encouragement of leading Indonesia wildlife conservationists who are also working to protect the species,” Lawrence says. “They are on the ground and in the water, with a goal of making it a sustainable fishery. We believe it is crucial to work with the Indonesian people, as well as encouraging serious breeding efforts by marine aquarists.”

KICKSTARTER: The Banggai Rescue Project

BANGGAI Rescue Website

Banggai Rescue: USE OF FUNDS

James Lawrence
802.985.9977 x7

Photo Credits:

Banggai Cardinalfish Stamp: Karen Talbot/Karen Talbot Art
Banggai Cardinalfish Shoal: FAUP/Shutterstock
BANGGAI RESCUE cover: Matthew L. Wittenrich/Aquatic Pixels
Design: Linda Provost

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.