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Big Fish

Stories of Aquarium Fish

Aquarium fish, commonly known as ornamental fish, are the most popular pets after cats and dogs. There are about 2 million private and about 1’000 public marine aquariums worldwide. And today 98% of ornamental marine fish are still caught directly in the wild.

I have always been intrigued by aquariums: man-made fictional marine worlds contained in complex staging machines, like living dioramas or cabinets of curiosities.

Thoroughly researching, I started visiting enthusiasts who dedicate a huge amount of time, effort and money to creating very specific ecosystems in their homes. I managed to trace each player in the industry; from local shops, to some of the most important wholesalers in the world, veterinarians that control imports at the border, all the way to fishermen in Indonesia, the largest exporting country.

I met a couple of seahorse breeders who have not taken a single day off in fourteen years because their protégés have to be fed four times a day. I swam with a coral farm owner who is developing techniques to breed the invertebrates ex situ. I sailed with Indonesian fishermen and witnessed the sorting of their catch, fish that could end up on the other side of the planet, or get pecked by chickens under the awning of their house.

I want to showcase aquaria’s intrinsic paradox: the esthetic pleasure of building sophisticated miniature reproductions of nature, the handling of living creatures for visual pleasure, and an industry that is both a source of revenue for people in developing countries and has significant impact on the environment.

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