Report Open Access

Certification as a Conservation Tool in the Marine Aquarium Trade: Challenges to Effectiveness

Amos, Amy Mathews; Claussen, John D.

Certification of products as environmentally-preferable is a conservation tool developed to create market

incentives for products to be produced in an environmentally responsible manner. It has been part of the

conservation toolbox for commercial fisheries, forestry, and other sectors, including the marine aquarium

trade, for more than a decade. In the marine aquarium trade, live fish, coral, and invertebrates are collected

from coral reefs throughout the world, and sold to marine aquaria hobbyists in developed countries. Much of

this is collected illegally, with the use of cyanide to stun fish, making them easier to collect. Cyanide

increases the stress and mortality on fish, can kill non-targeted species on the reef, and encourages

destruction of the reef as collectors pry stunned fish out of crevices. Lax management in major source

countries allows for overfishing to occur as well. Most of the world’s marine ornamentals are collected in

the Philippines and Indonesia, and sold in the United States and Europe, two regions in which ecolabels for

certified products have had significant traction.

But the marine aquarium trade presents substantial challenges to effective certification. This report explores

these challenges and considers the extent to which they can be overcome. It does not evaluate the existing

certification program (the Marine Aquarium Council) specifically. Rather, this report looks at the marine

aquarium trade as a whole, examines whether the essential conditions are in place for meaningful

certification to succeed, and outlines efforts that might need to be taken to achieve success. It examines three

key components of effective certification in the context of the marine aquarium industry in Indonesia and the


(1) Satisfying the environmental claim

(2) Verifying the chain of custody

(3) Responding to economic incentives


This report was uploaded by Andrew L. Rhyne with specific permission of the funder The Kingfisher Foundation and Author Amy Mathews Amos. This was uploaded to provide a perm link to this important publication.
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