The heaven and earth contrast between home aquarists and public aquarists have succeeded in fissuring the marine aquarium paradigm in more ways than one. While both industrial scenes are unified by the prevailing love of marine life, the industrial aspects and technical rigmarole driving the two couldn’t make for a better juxtaposition.
For the humble aquarist, procuring your choice of livestock involves the facile task of driving to your favourite store, bagging said livestock and driving back home. A hardly tedious process with nary a need for complaint. How about receiving a pallet loaded with sharks, boxed up in tens of thousands of litres, and set to arrive from another continent. Difficult? Maybe. Now imagine the people having to coordinate this feat; packing, securing and orchestrating this symphony to the beat of a metronomic dateline.
A task most onerous, but one worthy of critical acclaim if carried out to exquisite perfection. While spending the week at Cairns Marine again as an unofficial intern, we had the absolute pleasure of being hosted by the wonderful and eternally gracious Squire family, as well as the jovial and very bohemian staff of the Cairns Marine team. We also got a chance to watch as the team danced to the thrilling chorus of large animal transport and coordination; a side that few get to experience.
If you’ve ever wondered how animals are collected, housed and transported for public aquariums, this is a great insight for you. Because this article is lengthy, we’ll split it into two parts, with the second article focusing more on the husbandry and quarantine practices.
Cairns Marine strikes a chord of familiarity amongst home aquarists, with many of us equating the name with Australian ornamentals such as Cirrhilabrus laboutei, C. lineatus, Macropharyngodon choati and so on and so forth. Unbeknownst to many, Cairns Marine straddles the industrial divide, supplying not only small ornamentals to home hobbyists, but also large animals to public aquariums. In fact, Cairns Marine takes pride in being one of handful of companies worldwide that is capable of completing initial stocking of large public aquaria, supplying customers with a veritable plethora of charismatic megafauna.
Species like the Gray Reef Shark, Maori Wrasse, Leopard Shark and Leopard Ray are just some of the iconic fish that pass through these doors. The company has now expanded to encompass a full repertoire of fish that includes animals of all sizes, from small, intermediate to large. This flexibility in animal size essentially allows relatively young public aquariums to “plug and play” upon receiving their livestock, instead of having to endure the initially awkward “grow out” phase comprising of tiny fish in disproportionately large habitats.
We spoke with Laura Simmons (curator, project manager and public aquarium liaison officer) on the animal handling, transport and quarantine protocols that are enforced and carried out from capture to customer reception. It starts with the development and conception of an idea with public aquarium customers, planning, and coming up with a list of specific animals. Unlike most wholesalers that work on a “stocklist only” system, Cairns Marine are open to requests, and will specifically target intended livestock that are realistically obtainable within their collection areas in the Coral Sea and Great Barrier Reef.
This literally negates that stifling limitations of a stockist, and exposes a potential customer to the veritable kaleidoscope of Australian flora and fauna.
The collection, handling and transport differs between each animal, and are customised accordingly to suit their individual needs. This begins when the animal enters the collection net on the boat. Because fisheries are not allowed to operate in Australia unless they are demonstrably sustainable, the various livestock has to be hand collected, net caught, and, done so without the use of destructive practices or chemicals. Prophylaxis and initial treatment begins as soon as the animals are removed from the ocean. Because the collecting vessels are usually out for up to a week, the timing and scheduling of the actual collection has to be carefully orchestrated, with more sensitive and delicate animals being targeted toward the tail end of the trip.
Back at the facility the animals are housed in various holding tanks ranging from 2,000 to 30,000 L. Here, they undergo treatment and acclimation before they’re allowed to leave the facility. A cocktail of various prophylactic, antibiotic and vitamin supplements are administered on a case by case basis. We’ll take a closer look at this in the following article.
A great deal of invention, innovation and intuition are needed to oversee the packing orders. This becomes very evident in the transportation procedures of the animals, where non-conventional housing units have to be used. The large animals are transported in various specially customised polyethylene vessels, tailored to suit the needs of their inhabitants. These specially designed vessels have to undergo rigorous stages of approval, which includes tilt tests, amongst other things, to ensure that they are airline friendly before they are given the approval needed for usage.
Since saltwater, electronics and aeroplanes do not mix, this rigorous testing and security measures are crucial and necessary. As even a single leak can be catastrophic to say the least, the trust between the wholesaler and the airliner is something that cannot be seen as an oversight. And, because flight durations may last up to 40 hours on commercial airlines, very specific weight, dimensions and various other criterion have to be met before they are allowed on the planes. This includes figuring out various permutations of packing to ensure that everything fit as snugly and as tightly in a single pallet; much like a tetris game.
As such, Cairns Marine has developed a series of novel modifications to accommodate for these restrictions. The series of photos laced throughout here features a small sampling of what we’re talking about. The lids are then screwed shut and ready for transport to their future owners. Each animal is also tagged into a database with information on its capture down to the specifics. The animals are collected by two main vessels, and these are Clearwater and Sharpshooter. Each time the boat goes out, information such as the date, time, location and divers on duty are recorded, and this information follows the animal for life. As such, public aquariums are able to tap into this database and request for specificities of the animals that they’re receiving.
While many of the animals are moved relatively quickly, a handful of them may spend some time at the facility before actually getting shipped out. These are well catered to, with many easily capable of spending months living and growing under the care of the husbandry team with no issues.
It’s the goal that every animal arrives alive and ready for public display, and Cairns Marine strives for continued excellence. It really is eye opening, and comforting to know that so much is being done to ensure the well being of these animals. Regardless of our background and association in the marine ornamental industry, it’s pivotal that we assume responsibility and show nothing but the utmost respect for the animals that we are entrusted with. There shouldn’t be a difference in how we treat the humble clownfish and the mighty reef shark, and its comforting to know that this level of care is never compromised at Cairns Marine. The next time you see a Leopard Shark cruising at your local aquarium, remember how much he had to endure to get there, and seek solace in knowing that he was given nothing but the best. Keep reading for the second part of this article, where we take a closer look at some of Cairns Marine’s husbandry and quarantine practices.
Also, just for the record, it probably isn’t wise being a fly or a spy on the wall or the floor of Cairns Marine.