Aquaria and Water Parks

Aquaria are jails for aquatic creatures, whereas Zoos are jails for animals.

Aquaria are but underwater life jails. They attract the same type of people who derive pleasure in visiting zoos. Different varieties of sea life are housed in aquariums ranging from exotic creatures such as sharks, whales, eels and swordfish to the most common goldfish.

Let it first be known that places like SeaWorld (Florida, USA) routinely drug its inmates. For example the stress under which orcas live makes them aggressive so trainers sedate them. In captivity infections are common as a result of which they don’t live as long as they do in the wild where they can live to be a hundred.

The marine tanks which house sea creatures are usually four feet each in width and depth and eight feet in length. Quite apart from the obvious lack of freedom, artificial lighting is another of the unpleasant situations the captive aquatic creatures are made to endure. They are confused by glass and do not recognise it as a barrier. They therefore move forward and sustain facial injuries by bumping on the glass.

An aquascape (word adapted from landscape) or hatke is a bigger area created under or in water – no different to an aquarium if it contains fish in addition to real aquatic or artificial plants, rocks, stones and driftwood. However, aquaponics is some thing totally different: aqua is short for aquaculture (growing fish) and ponics is hydroponics (growing plants in water). In hydroponics nutrients need to be added to the water, but in aquaponics nutrients are derived from the fish that are raised (to be killed) in the same water in which the edible plants and vegetables are grown. The fish produce ammonia which brings on bacteria which in turn serve as fertilisers for growing plants.

Some aquariums are standalone, others a part of zoos, and basically freshwater or saltwater. The former contain fish and plants from rivers with cold and warm water varieties; whereas, the latter contain fish from seas and oceans – these aquariums need to be located near the sea for their supply of seawater.

Although modern aquariums in different parts of the world can hold millions of litres of water, it is insufficient as compared to their natural habitat, especially for large species like whales, sharks and dolphins. In December 2022 freezing temperature which dropped to -6°C overnight may have resulted in a crack in the 52 feet high tank of Berlin’s AquaDom which burst. (AquaDom means water cathedral in Latin cum German.) It was a 25 metre tall cylindrical acrylic glass aquarium, costing Euros 12.8 million, and contained over 10 lakh litres of water, with 1,500 fish of more than 100 different species, the majority of which died.

In order to attract visitors, swimming with fish, feeding them, and touching them, is offered. It is bad enough to keep them captive, but to pet them and have different people in constant close proximity is stressful for the poor creatures. Remember such gimmicks are only in order to help generate money to run the facility. The management do not care for the lives and the stress they undergo – if and when they die, they are simply replaced and the hype of housing more creatures gets them more visitors...

Aquariums in India

In 2011 on hearing that Pune had plans for a walk-through aquarium, Beauty Without Cruelty successfully wrote to the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, as well as to the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) drawing the attention of the Commissioner to the cruelty involved so that they could cancel the project, especially as the location had not yet been identified and finalised, and it was expected to be built in 2-3 years. The high cost was another factor even if the PMC bore only 10% of the estimated Rs 6-7 crore.

The following points were highlighted in our letter:

• Aquariums, where ever located and how ever large, are water jails for the creatures housed in them. Not being able to swim far and wide in accordance with their instincts and abilities means infliction of cruelty upon them since they are wild life living in water.

• 85% of the world’s aquarium inmates are captured using the destructive cyanide fishing method due to which 90% of them die weeks after they’ve been poisoned.

• Having been torn from their families and groups, and having to adapt to an alien, unnatural environment is stressful and harmful for those creatures that survive.

• The seemingly natural 360° settings of walk-through aquariums cause fish get confused by the glass walls they are imprisoned in and, unable to recognize them as tangible barriers, sustain facial injuries when they collide with the glass.

• They are subjected to unnatural food, temperature, lighting and water, which render them susceptible to contagious diseases. The proposed touch pool can even spread infections to and among humans.

• It is never disclosed that mortality is high in all aquariums. Creatures are simply replaced and having to buy them involves spending more in running costs.

• It is a myth that aquariums housing water wild life are places of education and conservation even if biotopes for species are installed. Aquariums simply project human exploitation for commercial gain and are in fact a lesson in mis-education and have never really benefited conservation.

• Aquariums need to be closed, not new ones set up. There can be no protection in captivity. The creatures are imprisoned and miserable.

Some aquariums are standalone, whereas some are a part of zoos. If they house fish that fall under the Wild Life Protection Act, they require approval to function from the Central Zoo Authority. Therefore, in May 2013, following dolphinariums not allowed to be set up anywhere in India, Beauty Without Cruelty requested the Minister of Environment & Forests to direct the Central Zoo Authority not to give permission to zoos to set up aquariums and to close the existing ones. They were a big drain on our country’s natural wild life since specimens for display were being collected from the wild because the fish were not breeding in captivity.


Meanwhile, in reply to a RTI query to know the number of aquariums in zoos, the Central Zoo Authority stated: “Under Section 2 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 ‘Captive animals’ means only the animals specified in Schedules I, II, III & IV of the Act. Except species of marine fishes, no fishes are included in the said schedule of Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. Therefore ‘aquariums’ as such are outside the definition of ‘zoo’, unless they are exhibiting the marine species included in the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. The subject primarily belongs to Fishery Department and you may get the desired information from them. The CZA has no power/authority to prohibit construction/maintenance of aquariums by zoos or to give them any direction in this regard.”

In view of the above, BWC wrote to the CZA pointing out that aquariums were in fact listed in Recognition of Zoo Rules, 1992, under Number of Zoos and Captive Wildlife Facilities in States and Union Territories of India. Secondly, since CZA was supposed to grant recognition with due regard to the interests of protection and conservation of wild life, it becomes mandatory for CZA to ensure that aquariums are not adversely impacting the wild life of the country. And as such, a record of the fishes acquired, disposed, born and died in various aquariums maintained by zoos needs to be kept. Furthermore, if it is found that the number of deaths exceeds the number of births (which is very likely) the aquariums may be asked to close down.

However, it looks like the CZA for reasons best known to them, does not want to monitor aquariums even with reference to section 38H of the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2002, which states that “no zoo shall be operated without being recognised by the Authority”.

Brief information on some aquariums follows:


• In 2015 the renovated and reopened Taraporevala Aquarium at Mumbai declared that its exhibits would eventually include 2,000 exotic fish of over 400 species like butterfly, damsel, Arowana, Gruppen, yellow-striped tang, blue spotted stingray, clown, hark, trigger, Grouper and Moorish idol, mainly imported from South East Asian countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Bangkok. When they had planned on having a touch pool that would allow visitors to touch starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and turtles, and believe it or not, a fish spa for pedicures, BWC immediately wrote to the Municipal Commissioner and the Commissioner of Fisheries pointing out the health hazard involved. Unfortunately, not one, but two touch pools were finally included, plus the spa containing Garra rufa fish. Moreover, when the aquarium reopened in February 2015, six months later than scheduled, only 120 species of the 250 species of earlier fish had survived, and Rs 3 crore more than the budget was spent, resulting in a total cost of around Rs 20 crore. Although it was established that at least 130 fish had died due to inadequate care, the authorities imported 100 species of exotic fish for the renovated aquarium. Also, flexi glass for better clarity and LED and metal-halide lamps to enhance the colour of the fish which are harmful for them, were installed.

• The aquarium within the precincts of the Nandankaran Zoo, Bhubaneswar in Odisha comprises of 11 fresh water and 4 marine tanks.

• The Marine Aquarium & Research Center at Digha in West Bengal, boasts of an advanced sea water circulation system and filtration unit. The species are housed under three categories: those important for conservation, fresh water ones, and local marine species.

• Sea World Aquarium, Ramanathapuram District in Tamil Nadu, has exotic species such as octopus, parrot fish, snake fish, sea lizard, sea squid, lion fish, cow fish, crabs, lobsters, sea lotus, prawns, star fish, beach tamet, sea horses and sharks.

• The Port Blair Aquarium of Fisheries Museum is a tourist attraction for those who visit the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The exhibits are species peculiar to the islands and those found in the Indo Pacific and Bay of Bengal.

• Bagh-e Bahu Fort Public Aquarium at Jammu is an underground aquarium-cum-awareness centre. It has 24 aquarium caves and houses about 400 varieties of both fresh water and marine species of fish.

• At Bengaluru the Government Aquarium of the Department of Fisheries is a three floor building in which 70 varieties of cultivable and ornamental fishes are displayed – some are exotic like the striped loach, kissing gouramy, Buenos-Aries tetra, serpent tetra brought from America and Japan. There is another aquarium in Bengaluru at Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens.

• Ratnagiri’s Marine Aquarium was established under the Marine Biological Research Station and is near the Mandavi Beach, Maharashtra. This aquarium houses both fresh water and marine fish. Adjoining the aquarium is a fisheries museum.

• In Rajasthan, the Datda Sea World at Mount Abu that has a large collection of fishes and sea shells is considered the largest aquarium in India. It comprises of 100 small aquariums and contains a variety of fishes imported from Netherlands, Singapore, USA, Kenya, Pakistan, etc.

• The Marine Aquarium of Chennai is situated on the premises of the Marine Biological Station, within the grounds of the Zoological Survey of India. Similar to the Singapore aquarium, this aquarium is fully air conditioned, and houses 18 glass fronted tanks.

• The Matsyadarshini Aquarium, situated on the Ramakrishna beach is run by the Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation, has tanks displaying fresh and marine water fishes. They also display uncommon marine invertebrates.

• The Patna Zoo’s Sanjay Gandhi Jaivik Udyan Aquarium generates substantial revenue by way of entrance fee. It houses not only fishes, but snakes.

• The Vizhinjam Marine Aquarium of Kerala not only has marine wealth, but proudly declares having perfected the cruel Image Pearl production technique by which a mould of any shape made of shell cement is implanted into the pearl oyster.

Other aquariums are:


• Bhopal Fish Aquarium, MP

• CIFA Aquarium, Bhubaneswar, Odisha

• Calcutta Aquarium, Kolkata, WB

• Kankaria Aquarium, Ahmedabad, Gujarat

• Kolam Aquarium, Kollam, Kerala

• Star Aquarium, Karunagappally, Kollam, Kerala

• Travancore Royal Aquarium, Shangumukham Beach, Trivandrum, Kerala

• Dr A M Michael Aquarium, Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, Panangad, Kochi, Kerala

Dolphinariums, Aquatic and Water Parks

In many countries such as America and Japan, dolphins and sea lions are made to perform in aquariums, often in heavily chlorinated water which burns their eyes. Training and discipline is based on hunger. They bounce balls and jump hoops in order to be rewarded with dead fish to fill their tummies. If and when dolphins put on weight, they are fed less and are cruelly trained to play basket-ball, jump over ropes and slow dance; and to top it off sea lions are trained to feed fish to dolphins… certainly ‘educational exhibits’ of cruelty, no different to animals performing in circuses. Unimaginable torture lies behind making any creature feed another.


Just like animals in circuses have in a fit of anger and resentment killed their trainers, it can happen in water parks. For example, in 2010 at Sea World, Florida, a killer whale, in front of the audience grabbed a 16 year experienced trainer (who was rubbing the whale’s head) by her waist, thrashed around and pushed her underwater. Earlier the whale had killed two other humans. Following a 2013 documentary entitled “Blackfish” (about the orca/killer whale at SeaWorld, starting from the time it was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983, and the subsequent harassment it underwent, contributing to its aggression) SeaWorld reported a 13% drop in attendance and 11% drop in revenue during the first quarter of 2014. Then in 2015 California regulators barred SeaWorld San Diego from continuing to breed the killer whales or orcas. SeaWorld will therefore phase out is controversial killer whale shows by 2017.

To quote PeTA USA: “SeaWorld enslaves animals in tiny concrete tanks at marine abusement parks across USA and is expanding its failing business around the world. Since the release of Blackfish – the documentary that exposes SeaWorld’s violent capture and cruel confinement of orcas – the park’s attendance has tanked, top executives have been ousted, celebrities such as Harry Styles have urged fans to stay away, and hundreds of employees have been laid off. In 2014 the park lost 1 million visitors and in 2015 SeaWorld San Diego was the worst-performing major theme park in the world. SeaWorld agreed to end its sordid ocra-breeding programme but did nothing for the 168 other dolphins and whales swimming in endless circles and breaking their teeth in frustration as they gnaw on the concrete corners and metal bars of their tiny tanks, nor for the 38 ocras, dozens of beluga whales, more than 100 dolphins and innumerable smaller animals such as sharks, pinnipeds and penguins who had already died, many of them prematurely.”

In August 2023 Lolita the Ocra of Miami Seaquarium died after half a century in captivity. The park owned by The Dolphin Co under public pressure had agreed to release her into the ocean, but meanwhile she died.

At Dolphin City, Mahabalipuram, 46 km from Chennai, American sea-lion performances used to occur daily. In 1998 BWC had objecte
d when dolphins were initially brought to this amusement park and made to perform thrice a day in order to make quick money. Within six months of their arrival from Bulgaria, all four died. That’s when the management introduced sea-lions and trained them by the ‘carrot and stick’ method of withholding food so they would “perform a number of tricks to amuse people”. Many sea-lions also died and the Central Zoo Authority of India refused them the mandatory recognition needed to continue operations. Neither dolphin nor sea-lion shows at Dolphin City have therefore existed for over a decade.

Surprisingly, the failure of this dolphinarium, did not deter India from contemplating similar ventures. BWC wondered whether politicians and others were aware that many dolphins die during capture from the wild, transportation and training; others refuse to eat in captivity thus effectively committing suicide – which clearly says it all. Please read

Proposals to set up aquatic parks and dolphinariums at different places kept cropping up like at Chandigarh, Mumbai, Sindhurdurg, Pune, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Visakhapatnam and Bengaluru.

The Department of Forest & Wildlife of the Chandigarh Administration has plans to set up on 3 acres of land an Aquatic Park – The City Beautiful – with the “twin objectives of promoting eco-tourism and educating the citizens about the importance of conserving flora & fauna”. Totally misconceived notions… unfortunately for the confined aquatic creatures it will spell nothing short of cruelty in the form of a walk in aquarium, education-cum-fish presentation centre with seating capacity of 50, souvenir and aquarium outlet point, and other related entertainment facilities.

Terrible as it sounds in Mumbai too there was a move to build an underground aquarium at Mahalaxmi race course. It seems the Mayor was inspired by the Singapore Underwater World and wanted the 226 acre race course to be turned into a tourist attraction with a dolphin park and aquarium. It is shocking that the creatures housed in Singapore are not given the ‘right’ diet as is evident from the birthday cake presented to the sea cow, a highly endangered species.

Similarly claiming to be inspired by projects in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, the Tourism and Public Works Minister planned to set up a Sea World project in Konkan where dolphins and other species from the polar-regions like seals and penguins would be housed. The MTDC (Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation) with the help of the Science & Technology Park, Pune (an institute set up by the Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India and University of Pune) conducted a feasibility and viability study, following which in October 2011 the Chief Minister gave an in-principle approval to this Rs 510 crore project that would promote 720 kms along the coast. BWC wrote to the Industries Minister who was also the Guardian Minister of Sindhurdurg against the setting up of this Sea World. The blueprint had a giant aquarium, a dolphin park and a stadium, a facility to train dolphins, guest houses, a theatre and theme restaurants. The government had initially planned to set it up in the sea, but changed plans to cover 200 acres of land instead, stating that the required water would be drawn from the sea through outlets.

In December 2011, the Union Ministry for Environment & Forests asked the state government of Maharashtra “not to entertain the proposal of construction of Dolphinarium/Water Parks at Sindhurdurg through Private Public Partnership (PPP), which is meant for commercial purpose, and not permitted under Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.” BWC had appealed to them to stop dolphin performances in India, just like Costa Rica, Chile and Cyprus had. However in early 2012 the Maharashtra Tourism Minister asked the Science & Technology Park to again come up with a detailed project report and chart out a plan as to how to go about it.

BWC could not understand as to why India wanted to suddenly set up dolphinariums and similar projects that were being strongly objected to and in fact being shut down in other countries on cruelty grounds.

Our protests at the end of 2012 following a plan to set up a dolphinarium at Kochi resulted in a positive response because in January 2013 under directions from the Ministry of Environment & Forests, the Animal Welfare Board of India citing recent plans at Kochi, Sindhudurg, NOIDA and Mumbai, warned all state governments against the setting up dolphinariums. Despite this, since the Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA, Kochi) declared their determination to set up the Dolphin Park, BWC immediately wrote to the Minister of Environment & Forests requesting that dolphins be placed in the list of animals notified that are not allowed to be exhibited or trained as performing animals. BWC also requested that the Ministry not allow the import of dolphins or any other creatures such as seals and sea-lions, just like such permission had not granted at Mahabalipuram for import of dolphins a decade ago.

Eventually in May 2013 on grounds of cruelty and commercialisation of wildlife the Ministry of Environment & Forests rejected all proposals to set up dolphinariums anywhere in India.

Unfortunately, the GCDA, Kochi, still want to bring animals from abroad and are now hoping to establish a penguin park. If this plan doesn’t go the dolphinarium way then it may very well be a repeat of what happened at the Surat Aquarium in February 2014 when 12 sharks procured from Malaysia died within an hour of arrival. To set up a proper marine environment at this underwater aquarium to eventually accommodate 30 sharks for Rs 20 lakhs, the Surat Municipal Corporation imported Rs 30 lakhs worth of synthetic salt from Israel.

The synthetic sea salt mix comes in 20lb/50lbs pails that make approximately 57/143 gallons. Artificial seawater, also known as synthetic seawater and substitute ocean water, has the advantage of reproducibility over natural seawater since it is standardised. It is a mixture of dissolved salts that simulates seawater. It is used in marine biology and reef aquaria and allows easy preparation of media appropriate for marine organisms like algae, bacteria, plants and animals.


Again in August 2014, penguins were the main attraction with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai setting aside Rs 2.40 crore to buy six from Thailand, and another Rs 19 crore for their maintenance at Jijamata Udyan or Byculla Zoo. Upon knowing, BWC sent letters of objection to the Union Minister of Environment & Forests and the Central Zoo Authority saying animals, birds and reptiles that are not of India find it extremely difficult to adjust in our zoos and so they suffer and/or die which in itself was a good enough reason to stop entry of all foreign creatures to be housed in India’s zoos. The CZA wrote that “the proposal was not advisable from the point of view of animal welfare issues, negative publicity, economics and difficulty in creation of naturalistic conditions” but gave no clear cut assurance regarding zoos housing foreign creatures.

It was therefore not surprising when in July 2016 eight Humboldt penguins from the COEX Aquarium in Seoul, South Korea arrived at the Byculla Zoo in Mumbai. BWC had covered their proposed import in Compassionate Friend and requested readers not to visit the penguin prison. Meanwhile the CZA in a complete turn around (very likely due to political pressure) replied BWC that they had granted permission for the import “after taking due comments from the Executive Director, World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Senior Director, Singapore Zoological Gardens. Further, the acquisition of penguins was approved subject to due screening of the penguins against zoonotic diseases prior to transportation and following the guidelines laid down by the Central Zoo Authority for the transport of captive wild animals. Besides, the VJB Udyan Zoo, Byculla, Mumbai has taken export permit for acquisition of Humboldt penguins from CITES. The VJB Udyan Zoo, Byculla, Mumbai has signed a contract with Sivat Services Incorporated, Tex, USA and Oceans International Pvt Ltd, Australia for providing expertise in construction of exhibit and also to provide staff for taking care of health and upkeep of penguins for next 5 years.” So, BWC is waiting and watching…

BWC’s fears are materialising earlier than expected. In September 2016, the BMC forfeited as much as Rs 1.4 crore which was earnest money deposit collected from the contractor responsible for constructing the penguin enclosure since it was discovered there was no joint venture between him and Highway Construction Company and Sivat Services. (Strangely, the BMC was initially keen that this contractor should also construct a marine aquarium and a robotic zoo.) Then, on 18 October 2016 one of the 8 imported penguins fell sick and died in quarantine without even being put forward for public viewing.

In March 2017 a plan to set up a Marine Oceanarium which would have a 270 degree acrylic tunnel showcasing more than 300 marine species, large aquariums, touch pool and sea lion shows, at Somnath for Rs 350 crore was declared. BWC immediately sent off an objection letter to the Chief Minister of Gujarat giving several reasons as to why the project should be reconsidered and given up. In response the state government replied that they did not plan to establish it.

BWC got to know that Telangana had called for bids by June 2023 for an Aqua Marine Park and Aviary in Kothwalguda, Hyderabad, objections to which had been sent to the Chief Minister by a group of animal activists of the state. Click here for details. BWC also wrote to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change requesting them not to grant permission for this or any such a project elsewhere in India.

In addition, BWC also wrote to the Prime Minister saying that if Gujarat can give up plans to establish an Oceanarium at Somnath, so could all other states like Telangana at Kothwalguda where an Aqua Marine Park had been proposed, and at Goa at Quitol where plans to construct an Oceanarium were being made.

In August 2023, three months after the deadline for bids which was extended to 18 August, the Telangana government had still not received even a single bid – a good sign that the aqua marine park project was just not taking off.

Similarly, the Taraporevala Aquarium (Mumbai) failed to elicit any bids for the global tender they floated in 2022 inviting project applications to modify the design of the building and maintain a top-notch aquarium on a public-private partnership model.

As regards the planned Oceanarium at Quitol in Quepem taluka, Goa at a cost of Rs 800 crore, the state government declared in April 2023 that bidders had been invited to prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR) which must consist of the conceptual preliminary design and detailed estimates based on market rates after obtaining approval from the state government and the board of directors of GTDC in order to avail funding from the centre and state.

BWC wonders why at a time when more and more people in different countries were becoming concerned and speaking out and objecting to aquariums, we in India are thinking of setting up elaborate aquariums – for what and whose benefit? For example, because of SeaWorld’s failure in America, it decided to expand and managed to establish itself at Abu Dhabi in May 2023 with dolphins, sea lions, sharks and aquatic birds being kept in captivity at this park.

On cruelty and exploitation grounds BWC strongly advises against visiting all underwater zoos, particularly the following which are being touted to potential Indian tourists:
SeaWorld, HQs: Orlando - Florida, USA, opened in March 1964
SeaWorld, Abu Dhabi, UAE, opened in May 2023
Ocean Park, Hong Kong, opened in 1977
Chimelong, Ocean Kingdom, Zhuhai, China, opened in 2014
Marine Life Park, Singapore
Sea World Marine Park, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, opened in 1971
Dolfinarium Harderwijk, The Netherlands
Marineland, Ontario, Canada, opened in 1961
Marineland Cote D’Azur, Antibes, France, opened in 1970
uShaka Marine World, Durban, South Africa, opened in 2004

We must acknowledge that all oceanariums, dolphinariums, sea worlds, aquatic, water, and theme parks are modern day circuses and never patronise them, even on visits abroad.

Cyanide Fishing highlighted

Well then, where do Aquariums get their inmates from?

Tropical coral reefs in Southeast Asia and island nations across the Indian and Pacific Oceans are major sources of aquarium trade specimens.

Unlike their freshwater cousins, almost all saltwater fish, 95% to 99% are taken directly from their natural habitats, putting immense pressure on wild populations.

Cyanide fishing, a destructive method, involves spraying crushed sodium cyanide tablets mixed with seawater from squirt bottles to stun and capture live coral reef fish easily.

85% of the world’s aquarium inmates are captured using the harmful cyanide fishing method, regardless of its illegality in many regions.

When exposed to cyanide, fish suffer severe gasping, loss of balance, and complete respiratory failure.

Excessive sodium cyanide causes immediate death in fish, resulting in a 75% mortality rate, with further losses during transit.

Shocking statistics from the WWF reveal that almost all wild-caught marine fish for the aquarium trade die within a year of capture.

To account for the high mortality rates, collectors overfish, extracting two to three times more fish than needed to compensate for post-catch deaths.

The greater damage is to the Coral Reefs and many of the life forms that rely on them.

Each live fish caught with cyanide destroys about a square yard of coral.

Cyanide kills coral polyps and algae, turning the vibrant reefs – the “rainforests of the oceans” – into desolate marine deserts.

Researchers estimate that more than a million kilograms of cyanide have been squirted onto Philippine reefs alone over the last half century.

Once the coral’s dead, the entire ecosystem collapses. Without coral, reef fish, crustaceans, plants, and other animals no longer have food, shelter and breeding grounds.

The effects ripple up the food chain, affecting thousands of species, including us. Reef habitats contribute to the livelihoods of tens of millions of people.

Our planet is in a state of turmoil, and it is our responsibility to safeguard it, or rather to safeguard ourselves!

Ornamental Fish

Fish are not ornaments… by using the adjective “ornamental” scant respect is given to them. Showcasing “rare fish from across the globe” is unfortunately a growing trend. Hundreds of species along with as many aquatic plants are displayed at “Aqua Life” exhibitions in different cities organised by commercial dealers and so-called hobbyists who claim to be promoting “ecologically balanced aquariums”. They display and sell scores of different fish breeds ranging from the rare Red Dragon Flower Horn to the common gold fish. Not only are fish such as African Cichlids, Blue Ram Cichlid, Alligator Gar, Angels, Platinum Angel, Arowana, Asian Arowana, Red-tail Golden Arowana, Red Chill Arowana, Red Snakehead, Archer fish, Black Ghost, Clown, Damsel, Doctor-fish, Invertebrates, Jelly fish, Lion fish, Lobsters, Shrimps, and Sting Ray, but also birds like Macaws are exhibited.

A BWC representative visited the Kerala Aqua Ventures International Limited (KAVIL) which was inaugurated in January 2010. It is located in a semi-urban area called Kadungallur, about 30 kilometres from Kochi International Airport. This Rs 80 million project, popularly known as Aqua Technology Park, aims to breed ornamental fish for export. They are currently bred at six hubs, or breeding shelters. Breeding is yet to commence here, so small fish are flown in from Kolkata. They could have been captured from the wild or culture bred, we don’t know. But what we do know is that they are kept in glass, aquarium-type fish tanks. These fish are intended for distribution for homestead farming among individuals and societies registered with KAVIL – once registration starts. After a period of home farming, or after the fish reach a desired size, KAVIL plans to take them back at prices fixed in consideration of variables like their quality, age, size and health, for export marketing.

Dead en route

The ornamental fish business has an annual global turnover of $4.5 billion, and growing fast. The demand for aquarium fish is from Europe, the Gulf and South-East Asian countries. Indian ornamental fish are exported to USA, Europe, Russia and Japan. KAVIL has already procured orders from France, Italy, Korea and Hong Kong. The company hopes to capture 10 percent of the world market in 8 years.

The volume of internal and export trade gives an idea of the billions of small fish involved. But how many millions die in transit from breeder to seller to buyer is any one’s guess. They are transported in small plastic bags with minimum water and little air. It is a common practice to claim replacements for the numbers that are found dead upon arrival due to lack of speed and safety in transit. In fact, for traders of fish aquariums and their accessories, replacement is easier than going through the trouble of trying to cure sick fish.

Literally “Painted” Fish and “New Age Pets”

Exotic fishes, amphibians and crustaceans are demanded for in fish-keeping circles which are supported by platforms like the Kolkata Aquarium Club. To show they care, many are against the display of mutilated or deformed fishes like parrots or dyed fishes.

There was a time when birds were literally painted and exported as “painted finches”. Now it is fish that are dyed and few realise that the word “painted” is literal. They are either injected with dye or coloured by dipping them into a mild acid solution to dissolve their natural slime coat. The few that survive this process are painted with semi-permanent fluorescent dyes after which they are placed into an irritant so that they regenerate their slime coat. The practice of painting fish has nearly eliminated the availability of the unpainted variety.

Taiwan produces and exports more than 80% of its aqua. They genetically modify fish, for example, no more than two centimetre-long fluorescent fish have genes of jelly fish and coral inserted into them, and are internationally marketed in small aquariums for children. Fancy and unusual “new age pets” like fairy mermaids with human like faces and long tails, command prices higher than a gram of gold. The “blue velvet shrimp” with a turquoise coloured glow was bred from the popular Rili shrimp which has a transparent body and a red head. Another engineered breed is the “chocolate shrimp” a cross between tiger- bee- and aboriginal Taiwan- shrimp species, is claimed to have taken six to seven years to stabilise genes to produce this dark-brown coloured creature.

Thus, for the sake of commercial gain countless lives are put through immense torture.

The sad part of it is that even the Animal Welfare Board of India does not see any cruelty. For example permission was granted to the Bhavan’s Nature & Adventure Centre to organise an exhibition “World of Pets” at Andheri, Mumbai in April 2018. They displayed over 200 species of exotic fishes, birds and even dogs.

Aquascapes and Artificial Reefs

Aquascapes showcase different garden styles such as Japanese, Dutch, natural, jungle or reef. Fish may not be part of aquascapes, but they are used periodically for cleaning them, e.g. Amano Shrimps that consume debris and algae.

3D aquascape tanks often house exotic specimens of marine life including hybrid varieties like the Flowerhorn, and contain real and faux accessories of plants, etc. – with the sole aim of attracting human attention.

The Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) has been introducing Artificial Reefs (AR) in coastal waters of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat in order to promote fisheries. The man-made AR structure is placed on the seabed. The project is under the Prime Minister’s Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) scheme with 60% funding from the Centre and 40% from the state governments. They feel that ARs will restore the marine environment and boost coastal fish production while discouraging bottom trawling in shore areas. According to CMERI over 300 species coexist in a settled AR. The commercial varieties include breams, groupers, snapers, perches, cobia, sea bass, rabbit fishes, silver biddies, seer fish, barracuda, mackerel, trevallies, queen fishes, etc.

(CMERI is the same institution that in the 1980s developed an extremely cruel technique in the 1980s to remove eyestalks of lobsters because they found that blinded lobsters grew faster.)

Live Corals and Rock

The latest trend is to use live coral polyps (these marine invertebrates are mainly captured from the wild) in reef aquariums. They are being sold by shops, online and even illegally imported into India. Live rock is also illegal but in demand for saltwater tanks. It is called “live” because of the many micro- and macroscopic marine life that are found to be living on and inside it. This ocean rock is actually calcium carbonate skeletons of dead coral that were a part of a natural coral reef.

In April 2022 as many as 466 live corals packed in jars containing water and kept in 2 bags were seized by Pune Customs from 2 Indian passengers arriving from Dubai. They intended to sell them.

Trauma and Suffering

Fish (and water plants) kept in tanks at home quite often die either due to neglect of not being fed, or as the pump that circulates fresh water in the tank has stopped functioning during power cuts. Bone char is used in aquarium filters to remove fluoride from the water.

Feng Shui recommends keeping brightly coloured Arowana gold fish in multiples of nine for “prosperity and growth”. Makes one wonder how people can experience good luck and get wealth at the cost of torturing innocent lives. They are small, but feel as much pain and can suffer just like us.

Every summer since 2007 the Gujarat Aquarium Foundation has been organising an exhibition as a part of the state government’s Krishi Mahotsav, wherein different varieties of aquariums along with big, small and different coloured fishes are displayed. In 2013 their attraction was Silver Arowana fish at Rs 1,50,000/- and Rs 20,000/- for the Golden Arowana.

Complete aquariums are cheaply available. No wonder we see so many fish tanks in business premises – even those run by strict religious vegetarians who are probably unaware that bone char is used as a chemical filter. They do not realise and more importantly do not want to know about the trauma the poor fish undergo. Someone tells them that keeping a fish tank will enhance their wealth and so they go in for it unthinkingly.

Similarly expensive Fishquariums (a tiny fish tank with adjoining compartment to keep stationery like pens, pencils and scissors) are promoted. Said to have calming benefits on the humans but that can not be true because the fish within are cruelly subjected to living in an extremely cramped space, LED lighting, battery operated clock cum calendar working 24/7, and other disturbances that frighten them enough to impart negativity into the room.

Luckily typical spherical fish bowls are not seen that often. As they provide insufficient oxygen for fish and cause them to go blind, they have been banned in Italy. However, rectangular glass aquariums are available in “hobby” or “pet” shops. Fish tanks 24x12x12 inches in size, are commonly seen; the smallest hold no more than 11 litres of water – captivity, no different to a jail. Not being able to swim far and wide they do not grow to their full potential and so remain stunted. Artificially made to resemble the sea bed, the tanks provide pathetic living conditions for the fish “pets”. Installing a bulb or small tube-light under the cover in order to see the fish at night is an additional cruelty.

The fish are subjected to unnatural food, temperatures, lighting and water which make them susceptible to numerous contagious diseases. Popularly fed only dry worms once a day, the fish are not given any other attention. A “jamadar” fish is kept to do the dirty work of eating up all the muck, so cleaning the water filter more often than once in three weeks is avoided.

The fish get confused by the glass walls of the tanks they are imprisoned in and, unable to recognize them as barriers, move forward sustaining facial injuries by bumping on the glass. They often die due to neglect, not being fed regularly, too much or too little sunlight, or because the pump that circulates fresh water in the tank stops functioning during power cuts. The pump itself is stress causing.

Cruelty-free Fish Figurines and Virtual Fish Tanks

For those who have faith and hope in Feng Shui, it is said that fish figurines work just as well as the real fish, so then wouldn’t it be simpler and humane to display nine of these instead?

Virtual fish tanks and aquariums are the latest “alternatives” to keeping live fish in tanks or visiting aquariums. Digital fish are brought to life in elaborate 3D settings online.

Advanced alternatives include virtual tours, models and videos that offer solutions to reduce animal suffering. For example, lifelike animatronic dolphins in the US and immersive exhibits like National Geographic’s Ocean Odyssey and China’s VR exhibit provide realistic encounters with sea life using advanced technologies.

Self Certification for Premium Prices

With an aim to further boost export, in 2011 the Marine Products Export Development Authority issued guidelines for so-called green certification or eco-labelling of freshwater ornamental fishes, similar to the existing code of practices for marine ornamental fishes. The guidelines cover collection of ornamental fish from the wild, their handling, holding facilities, culture of species and facilities for export, including information about the way fish is handled at various stages of the chain of custody. The criteria for the certification (with logo) claims to ensure environment and socio-economic sustainability in trade of the product, and also guarantees quality, safety and traceability which is turn is said to enhance value and consumer acceptance. The aim: consumer acceptability at premium prices. In short, green certification is but a gimmick which helps exporters of ornamental fish to earn more.

Page last updated on 29/08/23