The caliber and quality of sustainably collected animals from Cairns Marine are some of the best anywhere in the world today. From miniature shrimps to magnificent sharks, stinging anemones to demanding Acropora, every animal that pass through these doors are exposed to a complete gamut of strict husbandry practices and protocol. In this final recount of our Cairns Marine visit earlier this month, we take a look at how this fine establishment has embellished itself as one of the foremost wholesalers of this day.
In the earlier part of this series, we saw how Cairns Marine dealt with the housing and transportation of some of the larger Australian megafauna, as well as the stringent concordat associated with shipping them on commercial flights. But before all that can happen, these animals, big or small, are subjected to a series of quarantine protocols set in place by the husbandry team, ensuring that nothing but the best leaves the facility.
As previously discussed, Cairns Marine has an extended arm in the public aquarium sector, providing both consultation and collection of larger, more exuberant animals. But to the home aquarist, the recollection of this company strums a somewhat different chord, one that rhythmically plays to the tune of ornamental coral, fish and invertebrates.
The collection of fish and coral from the wild foreshadows different approaches to quarantine and husbandry. In corals, each individual colony is selectively hand collected from the reefs and undergo an initial coral dip on the boat. Prophylaxis and treatment, in a sense, begins in situ. Care is also taken to ensure that every single colony is housed individually, with no two adjacent corals touching each other (so that their stingy bits don’t inflict any damage).
Back at the facility, each colony is dipped again and inspected individually for pests and other harmful organisms that may be sharing the coral host. Every single coral is catalogued and dated with information pertaining to collection and shipping. The idea that corals should be housed briefly and shipped out as soon as possible is an archaic dogma that isn’t practiced here. Many of these colonies, under good water quality, husbandry and correct parameters, are able to flourish and maintain their colors for extended periods of time.
Like corals, the husbandry protocols for fish begin straight on the boat. The sequence of collection is vital to the welfare of the animals, with sensitive and delicate species collected last near the tail end of the trip. Sturdier, more robust species that are able to handle the time out at sea are likewise collected earlier on. As usual, each species is housed separately with members of their own kind, which prevents any unnecessary fighting or problems due to incompatibility.
Every species regardless of taxonomic affiliation is also allocated with laminated cards of varying specificities. This provides an easy access to information pertaining to where the animal came from, what kind of feeding regiment it requires and whether or not it is undergoing prophylactic or medicinal treatments. The photo above of Pseudanthias cf. aurulentus shows two different cards allocated to its holding tank. Clearwater is one of two collecting boats used by Cairns Marine – the other being Sharpshooter. The other card demonstrates the feeding regime of this species.
This card system is a simple yet effective way of disseminating information to the husbandry team and packing staff. Fish that are undergoing treatment will therefore not likely to get shipped out. Conversely, fishes that are currently in line for shipping will have their client’s detail listed and the date at which they will be moved. The laminated cards and marker system also allows for quick changes to be made by simple erasing and rewriting of instructions.
Because Cairns Marine deals with all animals big and small, a veritable plethora of food is utilized to suit the individual needs of each creature. This ranges from brine shrimp to large whole fish. Fishes such as Pseudanthias and Cirrhilabrus are fed multiple times a day immediately post collection. This is important for planktivorous species that feed throughout the day in the wild. Once these fishes are starved beyond a certain threshold, it is often incredibly difficult to get them feeding and thriving again. By eliminating this problem and feeding them profusely from the start, the difficulty in keeping Pseudanthias is dramatically reduced.
Quarantine protocols ranges from prophylactic treatments to medicinal therapies. The treatment regime is very specific, and does not follow a broad spectrum hit or miss approach. Whenever a fish dies in a particular system, the body is sent for necropsy to determine the actual cause of death (COD). This ranges from gill biopsies to skin swabs or even complete dissection. This narrows down the COD to a specific agent, and the corresponding treatment can be subsequently administered to the tank.
Larger animals like sharks and rays may require direct vitamin B12 and antibiotic injections that smaller fish are unable to handle. Eyedrops may also be used, and in the case of pop eye, this has been proven to be quite effective. We found out that there are three primary causes for pop eye. These are differences in ocular pressure, infection and ligament tear. The first two problems are treatable, albeit very slowly. Complete luxation of the eye due to physical trauma is untreatable, and this is where careful collection with hand nets at every step of the way is important.
The handling of animals from the boat to the customer with a whole hodgepodge of quality control measures every step of the way has resulted in a world class facility (and one of the best we’ve seen) that runs like a well oiled machine. Having seen a fair share of wholesalers and export facilities, this has to be one of the more professional and stringent ones yet. A masterclass lesson in professionalism. That really impressed me much.