The Jakarta Post
The combination of sharp-thinking, rural village women and an all-too-common bucket list have led to surprising results for the handsome Kaudern's Cardinal.
Endemic to Central Sulawesi, the exotic black and silver markings of the tiny ornamental Banggai cardinalfish make it a must-have item on the bucket list of many aquarium hobbyists.
Due to consumer demand, that list is placing the endemic Indonesian fish under serious threat in the wild.
Founder of the Indonesian Nature Foundation (LINI), conservation biologist Gayatri Reksodihardjo-Lilley, said that while the numbers of Banggai cardinalfish in the wild have been decreasing at an alarming rate, the fish had proved to be surprisingly simple to breed in captivity.
For a sharp thinker, simple equation equaled village based aquaculture replacing, or at least greatly reducing, the wild harvest of the vulnerable species without causing a loss of income for those trading in the ornamental fish.
With substantial funding provided by the Australian Consulate in Bali and land generously offered by the Sianawati Sugiarto family, Gayatri established the non-government LINI Aquaculture and Training Centre in the remote hamlet of Les on Bali's north east coast.
Local women are currently learning how to breed the ornamental fish at the community-run aquaculture center, in hopes of taking the pressure off wild populations.
At the same time, the women ' many of whom have only primary-level education ' are developing new skills that will later offer a side income for their families.
'Balinese women don't have a lot of opportunity to work outside their villages or even in the village. We are trying to provide them with a work place, not full time but as a side income so they can still look after their families and farm animals,' explained Gayatri.
Replicating the natural breeding environment for Banggai cardinalfish demands attention to detail, says Gayatri.
Women at the new center, the training center that will be officially launched in early April, are learning the importance of seawater clarity, temperature and feeding regime. Any breach of the protocols set down can mean a failure to reproduce.
'The women first need to understand water quality. It needs to be perfect, from the salinity levels to temperature and it must be ammonia free. Ammonia forms from fish waste and left over feed. It's been a challenge to teach the 'why' of water quality. It [the specifics of water quality] is quite technical,' says Gayatri.
She explained that although the water may look clear, it still requires testing to ensure optimum natural breeding conditions for the fish.
'These women may not have gone to school, so this is a big step for them. However, most of them already have kids and have thus nurtured babies, now they nurture the fish,' says the conservation scientist.
Breeding the Banggai cardinalfish has increased the women's concern for the marine environment.
'Village girls seeing these fish born have developed empathy for the fish. Many of these women are used to seeing ornamental fish as the commodity their husbands or fathers collect in the wild, but as aquaculture they see the whole life cycle,' says Gayatri.
'What was a commodity is now seen as a living being that they have nurtured from birth to maturity and that has increased their empathy for fish in the wild as well'.
This new found perspective on the natural world was highlighted when the LINI Aquaculture and Training Centre sent its first live harvest to Britain earlier this month.
'The morning we packed and sent 400 Banggai cardinalfish to the UK, the mood that morning was tinged with sadness, but also pride. We knew the fish were going to good homes,' says Gayatri of the groundbreaking pilot ornamental fish breeding project.
With evidence of the success of community run aquaculture breeding in Bali, Gayatri hopes the model in Les Village can one day be replicated in central Sulawesi, allowing wild Banggai cardinalfish populations to breed safely in the wild.
'These are an endangered species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which categorize the status of a species, including the Red List Book. Through our population surveys we have seen the population decline over the years because there has been no effort to protect the species or undertake conservation management in its natural habitat,' says Gayatri.
The conservation scientist stressed that the Banngai cardinalfish are one of those very rare sea creatures that are endemic to just a small area of Sulawesi and not found anywhere else in the world.
'Endemic fish are rare. Almost no marine species is endemic. As a mouth brooder, the Banggai cardinalfish lives in a controlled area, unlike spawning fish,' says Gayatri, explaining that the small vermillion fish carries its babies in its mouth for three weeks, fasting the entire period, until they are released into the Maluku seas to grow.
In the US, the Banngai cardinalfish has been placed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and also on the threatened species list. 'But not here in its home. How can we, as Indonesians, fail these fish when the international community is so focused on its protection,' says Gayatri.
' Photos courtesy of Indonesian Nature Foundation (LINI)
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