Last week, I joined Usama Chaudhri, president of the Stockton Aquarium and Aquaculture Club to interview about the coral farm project being undertaken by the club. The club started in 2018, and has been growing by the year. While there are a few other marine-themed clubs at Stockton, including the Marine Science Club and Stockton's subunit of the American Fisheries Society, the SAAC specifically focuses on engaging members with the fields of aquarium keeping and aquaculture.
Aquarium keeping can be a very rewarding hobby, with it being proven to have therapeutic effects. Another important aspect to both the fields of aquarium keeping and aquaculture is conservation. Worldwide, fisheries have been experiencing rapid declines, and future projections have many stocks set for collapse. Along with overharvesting of target fish, inadvertent capture of other creatures as bycatch, and pollution through marine debris are other areas of concern with commercial fisheries. Further investments into aquaculture could allow it to become a more sustainable alternative for having seafood and reduce harvesting pressure so wild fish populations can recover.
The conservation value of aquaculture applies more directly to the aquarium-keeping hobby when it comes to supplying the aquatic animals being kept. Many commonly kept fish species such as goldfish, guppies, and tetras are able to be successfully and easily captive bred. Though when it comes to many other species, particularly marine species, wild-caught imports are still a major source of individuals seen for sale. Some popular aquarium creatures, such as corals, have been experiencing worrying population declines in the wild due to factors such as pollution, climate change, ocean acidification and growth of harmful algae on them. However, in recent years there has been major success in cultivating corals. Through these captive breeding efforts, there is far less demand for imported corals, and to take things even further, coral aquaculture is being used to breed corals and reintroduce them to damaged reefs and breed individuals that are more resilient to the changing conditions in which they are living.
This is where the Stockton Aquarium and Aquaculture Club comes in. After being unsuccessful in starting a project to breed a local fish species called a mummichog, the idea was pitched to try rearing coral at Stockton's marine field station. While COVID-19 has impacted the project and limited what can currently be done, the results are undeniable: Many healthy corals have been grown and dedicated SAAC members continue working hard to ensure the success of the project and that the corals remain in good care. Due to recent challenges, the aquaculture laboratory has been mainly used for equipment maintenance and storage. By the continuation of the coral farm project, there are hopes to revitalize the facility.
Chaudhri said he is excited to see the project continue growing. Plans include using the coral farm to conduct coral research, as well as expanding it for use with classes and outreach. The Stockton Aquarium and Aquaculture Club is currently the only university club in the U.S dedicated entirely to the fields of aquarium keeping and aquaculture. While aquarium keeping may seem like an uncommon, possibly even daunting hobby, the excitement and gratification of it is regularly mentioned to me. The SAAC continues to engage members both new and experienced in the field, and there are many plans to continue allowing the club to grow and thrive. In time, there are even hopes to sell some of the corals grown to other aquarium keepers.
I can say that I am personally much more interested in aquarium keeping because of this club, and with continued support of future and current members, the SAAC can continue its mission to engage and educate others on this fascinating subject. If you would like to contact the SAAC or donate to help fund the coral farm project, you can reach them at email@example.com.