New Aquarium Fish's Supply Dwindling Just Months After Discovery

Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
Updated March 21, 2007

CORRECTION: The original title of this March 7, 2007, article—"Aquarium Fish Threatened With Extinction Just Months After Discovery"—exaggerated the threat to the fish, says ichthyologist Tyson Roberts, who is extensively quoted. The availability of the fish to aquarium suppliers at the discovery site is rapidly dwindling, but, as mentioned later in the article, the species most likely doesn't face a threat to its survival because other populations of the fish probably exist in areas inaccessible to fishers, he says.

The original article also implied that Myanmar's government should have already taken action on the situation. However, because of the danio's recent discovery, much remains unknown about it, so the government has not yet had time to fully consider the issue, Robert says.

Just months after the discovery of a colorful new aquarium fish in Southeast Asia, worldwide demand and intense exportation are already causing concern about the readily available supply of the species.

The celestial pearl danio (Celestichthys margaritatus) was first found in August by a commercial aquarium-fish dealer near the town of Hopong in Myanmar (formerly Burma), which neighbors China and Thailand (map of Myanmar).

Measuring less than an inch (2.5 centimeters) long, the fish is deep blue with pearly pink or golden iridescent oval spots. It lives in heavily vegetated ponds in a remote northern part of the country, which is largely off-limits to foreigners. (Related photo gallery: "New Sharks, Rays Discovered in Indonesia Fish Markets" [March 1, 2007].)

At first the danio's location was kept a secret. But it wasn't long before word leaked out to other commercial dealers, said Tyson Roberts, an ichthyologist who has collected fish in Myanmar for almost 30 years.

Within a few months one Thai company alone had exported about 15,000 of the fish, he pointed out.

Since then exportation—mainly to Japan, North America, and Europe—has probably been ten times that amount, Roberts added.

"Captive breeding may be the only way for the aquarium hobbyist to ensure a supply of the species in the future, since it reportedly is already nearly fished out in the area where it was discovered," he wrote by email.

Roberts is the author of a paper on the celestial pearl danio that appeared in last week's issue of the journal the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology.

He also named the new species, after white spots on its body that reminded him of stars and pearls. (Roberts's research was funded by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. National Geographic News is a division of the National Geographic Society.)

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