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Aquarium Keeping with a Cold Chisel
Commentary: Times have changed, but lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

A geologist's hammer with a cutting edge, as well as a striking face, is the most useful; and the chisel must not be such as carpenters use, but one made wholly of iron, tipped with steel, such as is used by smiths, and technically called a cold chisel. Philip Henry Gosse instructing marine aquarists on collection techniques in his seminal A Handbook to the Marine Aquarium, published in 1855.

As a marine aquarist who lives within walking distance of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, I spend a lot of time observing natures aquariaour local tidepools.

Aquarists have always been drawn to the intertidal zone. In fact, a complete chapter is dedicated to collection from the intertidal zone in the first ever book written for the marine aquarist in 1855. Of course back then aquarists did not have a local fish store or an online retailer of marine ornamentals from which to buy their livestock, so they simply procured it themselves by chiseling or prying it from the bountiful tidepools that adorned their Victorian shores.

Walking my own local intertidal zone in 2008 with a cold chisel in hand is, most definitely, not in vogue. Using that chisel to extract marine life from the rocky walls of tidepools may, actually, now be illegal, as those tidepools are part of the Laguna Beach State Marine Conservation Area.

The Laguna Beach State Marine Conservation Area is a type C marine protected area (MPA), and, as such, it is unlawful to injure, damage, take or posses any specified living, geological or cultural marine resources for certain commercial, recreational, or a combination of commercial and recreational purposes. Collection of organisms is only permitted if you have a Scientific Collecting Permit (SCP) from the California Department of Fish and Game and permission from the MPA manager.

Generally speaking, MPAs are a good thing, as there is little doubt, that our tidepools were being loved to death by the groping hands of many well-intentioned (and some not-so-well-intentioned) tidepool visitors. But MPAs also do have their downsides.

Depending on the specific regulations for the area, MPAs can be designated as complete no-take zones which preclude activities such as collecting for aquarium use and fishing. While, on the one hand, this removes a great deal of pressure on the species living within the MPA, it also potentially removes some of the most important and knowledgeable visitorsfishermen and marine ornamental collectors.

While there are exceptions, it is often these visitors who understand the ecosystem best and who have the most vested interest in seeing it managed in a sustainable fashion. In the truest sense of the word, these people are ecologists, and they are on the frontline of conservation, often being the first to raise the alarm when something changes or goes wrong in the ecosystem. In a state where massive budget shortfalls often preclude state-supported scientists from monitoring MPAs, can we really afford to not have these amateur natural scientists present?

When we gather at the Huntington Beach Harbor View Club House for a workshop kicking off the Marine Life Protection Acts (MLPA) South Coast Study Region this coming July, I will not be advocating that marine collectors with chisels should be permitted in the Laguna Beach State Marine Conservation Area. Times have changed since Philip Henry Gosse enlisted the help of a man with a crowbar, to turn over the stones, as on their under surface, and beneath their shadow, valuable specimens are often found.

We have come to appreciate the hard way that our shores are not an unlimited resource, and protection is essential if we are to preserve these areas for their own intrinsic value and for the next generation of admirers...

...even the anglers and aquarists.

Originally published on Microcosm Aquarium Explorer on 24 June 2008 and reprinted here with permission of the author. To read more, visit Microcosms new blog feature, a line-up of interactive web columns from aquatic writers and opinion makers, where reader feedback invited.

Published 24 June 2008. Blue Zoo Aquatics

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