We Fish you a Merry Christmas

Naked Oceans gets festive this month with a seasonal guide to ocean-friendly gifts. Featuring sustainable fishy pets, virtual coral reefs, and wonderful singing e-cards that help...
11 December 2011


Things get distinctly festive in Naked Oceans this month as we crack open the mulled wine, scoff some mince pies, and settle down next to the roaring fire to bring you our exclusive guide to ocean-friendly gifts. Look no further for some exciting ideas to treat your ocean-loving family and friends - we've got it all here, from buying them their very own slice of virtual coral reef, to sustainable fishy pets, and some wonderful e-cards featuring a plethora of marine critters that help raise money for ocean conservation. And we're keeping things spick and span in Critter of the Month as we ask another marine expert to tell us, if they were a marine critter, which one they'd be, and why.

In this episode


01:36 - Buy a slice of the Coral Triangle

This Christmas, buy your loved ones a piece of virtual coral reef

Buy a slice of the Coral Triangle
with Lida Pet Soede, WWF Indonesia

NudibranchThis Christmas, buy your loved ones a piece of virtual coral reef and help protect some of the most biodiverse waters on the planet. We chat with WWF Indonesia's Lida Pet Soede about projects underway to conserve coral reefs and boost local livelihoods.

Lida: Around the coastlines of the countries in the coral triangle there are thousands and thousands, millions in fact, of people that live there and they don't have anything else to do. They wake up in the morning, they look at the ocean, they go out, they have to go catch a fish. We estimate actually as many as a 120 million people inside the coral triangle are depending, one way or another, on these marine and coastal ecosystems.

So many of those, of course, are fishermen; but you also have to think about people that are selling fish in the markets and, of course, people that are engaged in the tourism industry which is still growing. So, it is an incredible resource for people living in these countries themselves.

Moon snailHelen: Not all of us are lucky enough to have a chance to visit the beautiful reefs of the coral triangle, but this area is still important for all of us isn't it? And you at WWF are running a campaign to get everyone helping to protect the coral triangle.

Lida: It's true. The coral triangle is very important for people who live here, they can't go anywhere else, and so it is critical that together, with the governments and the people who live in the coral triangle we try to preserve at least part of this area. And, also we try to reduce bad practices in fisheries.

But a lot of the seafood that you would have available in Europe, especially tuna but a couple of the tropical reef fishes also are exported to the United States. That actually makes that connection between people who don't live here but who actually, increasingly for their seafood, are depending on the coral triangle.

We started a campaign which in fact has two objectives. One is to raise awareness and tell stories to the world about the coral triangle. Really there are good activities underway by local communities, by conservation groups such as WWF and the governments of the coral triangle are also really starting to make this a priority.

But the other objective is to try and motivate people to take action and support some of the work that we can do here. So we launched My Coral Triangle which first of all, actually, is aiming at people here in Asia. People are not used to providing support for charity in the environmental realm. We think that people in the coral triangle and countries around it do care where their seafood comes from, and especially the younger generations are really keen to dive and have a beautiful holiday experience so we are really keen to get to those people that live around the coral triangle itself.

But we are also very keen to raise the attention of the world to how special this place is. And in fact, maybe, the tuna sandwich that you are going to have for lunch today may come from these very waters here.

Helen: And you mention there are some great positive stories in some of the workHarlequin ghost pipefish that WWF and other groups are doing.

Lida: WWF is working with a lot of different partners, and they have a long history of working with communities on the ground and field projects. But I want to mention actually a more recent example of some really good action. We're working here with a local fish trader and he is a young man, 35 years old. He has traveled the world and he has seen some of the aspects of responsible seafood choices and thinking about the environment. So what he is doing here, he buys seafood here that he exports to Hong Kong and China and also he is interested to start exporting to Europe and Australia. But the fishers that he is buying from, he has asked them to only use legal fishing gear, to catch only those fish that are already mature.

But, also, he is actually right now working with us to protect the fish spawning aggregation and those areas he is very keen to protect because he realizes that if the fishermen would empty out those places that are critical for the reproduction and the regeneration, if you will, of these fish populations, then his business has also not going to be sustained.

There you have an example from a private sector business man who is wanting and needs to make money but he is actually educating the fishermen from which he buys to only catch the fish that are old enough and big enough.

Through the website we also like to see if the world can meet people like this fish trader and many of the other people who are doing really good work.

Find out more:

My Coral Triangle, WWF Indonesia

09:07 - Eco-friendly fishy pets

Sustainably-caught fish are the perfect gift for aquarium keepers

Eco-friendly fishy pets

Orange clownfish, Amphiprion perculaThis is one for anyone out there who has, or would like to have, some tropical fish at home. Not everyone can go out to the coral reefs of Australia or the Pacific Islands, so why not have an aquarium at home?

Now you can get your tropical reef fish guilt free, because EcoAquariums PNG, a company based in Papua New Guinea is leading the way in sustainably caught aquarium fish.

Dan - Eco Aquariums is a company that exports saltwater aquarium fish to importers around the world. Right now we have buyers in Asia, London, and North America. basically we are committed to maintaining a sustainable aquarium fishery here in PNG.

The fish that we're marketing, we're marketing them as the most sustainably collected and equitably traded fish in the world which means that we aren't taking too many and we're also paying a fair price to the people who are doing the collecting.

The ultimate goal is to make the aquarium fishery a very powerful coral reef conservation tool here in PNG.

Sarah - When we talk about sustainable in this context, what does this mean and how do you go about scientifically testing whether it is sustainable?

Dan - As far as our sustainability claims go, basically we are abiding by Total Allowable Catch limits or TACs that the PNG government establishes for us. What the PNG government is doing is their National Fisheries Authority is sending divers out onto the reef and they're conducting belt transects surveys on every single reef that we collect from. From the outer reef slope to the reef crest to the reef flats, seagrass areas, all of our collection zones.

Basically through their 100s of replicates they're establishing population estimates for all of our target species and then from those estimates they establish and catch limit. And basically we have to abide by that catch limit.

PNG is the only aquarium fish exporting country in the world that's conducting these kind of surveys to this kind of detail. We're the only aquarium fishery in the world that has the actual scientific data to back up our claims of sustainability.

Sarah - And I understand that you also involve the local people too, giving them an incentive to look after the reefs as well?

Dan - That's right. So all the collection is done by the locals in the coastal villages around the central province of PNG. Basically we are paying locals that have been trained in sustainable aquarium fish collection which means they've been trained to gently collect the fish without breaking the corals. We're paying then per fish that they collect.

So the whole idea is that we're employing average local coastal villagers to do this fish collection and we're giving them an opportunity to earn a pretty good income from fish that are otherwise totally worthless to them - the tiny colourful reef fish.

Probably our most popular fish right now is actually the 'Nemo', Amphiprion percula. Even though it's a pretty common fish in the fish trade the percula clowns from PNG are very unique in their colouration. They have odd stripes and lots of pigmentation.

In PNG these fish have absolute no value because there is no aquarium fishery up until now. So these fish were essentially nice to look at but had no value to the local people. The concentrated mostly on the larger fish, the food fish.

So by going into these villages and offering money for these fish that had no value, suddenly their coral reef resource takes on a whole new meaning of economic opportunity and it really reinforces their position to protect their corals and protect their reef from local pollution and destructive fishing.

Sarah - Is sustainability within the aquarium trade as a whole quite an unusual, new concept?

Dan - I think it's becoming more of a widespread concept but I don't think it's actually being implemented. It certainly isn't being backed up by any kind of science outside PNG. There's a lot of talk about sustainability now especially in the USA. Lots of people are promoting captive-bred fish, some are trying to steer people away from wild caught fish.

One of the biggest thing that Eco Aquariums says is that it's probably better to support a sustainable wild collecting fishery that to support captive-bred fisheries mainly because if you're supporting captive-bred fish then you're cutting out the Pacific islanders from the market chain, which then takes away their economic incentive to protect their coral reefs.

Sarah - So do you hope the way Eco Aquarium runs things will be spread out elsewhere in the world, in the tropical reef regions?

Dan - Absolutely. Eco Aquariums is trying to set a standard for the wild collection-based aquarium fishery. We're implementing a labelling and tagging system so all the fish that come out of PNG have a label attached to their fish bags which label the fish clearly as coming from PNG, from Eco Aquariums. So we're really marketing these fish as the sustainable alternative, so it's very obvious, very easy for people to see so they can make that decision to support a more sustainable option.

And we're hoping that there's a huge demand for this and that it's going to force other companies to change their ways.

Sarah - And of course they're going to be available in Europe by Christmas. Are they already available in other parts of the world?

Dan - They're going to be available in Singapore on Thursday. And they're going to be available in North America very soon. So we are actually pretty much in the start up phase right now. We'll be making our first exports to Asia this week, London before Christmas, and hopefully the same with New York city. So these will be widely available in the coming months.

Find out more about clown anemone fish - Amphiprion percula (aka Nemo) - at
Critter of the Month

Submarine springs reveal grim future for reefs in acidic oceans

Table coral AcroporaNatural submarine springs pouring onto one of the Caribbean's largest reef ecosystems are providing insight to the long-term responses of coral reefs to a more acidic ocean environment.

As levels of carbon dioxide build up in the atmosphere, it is not only leading to problems of climate change but it is also dissolving in the oceans causing the pH to drop - studies have already shown that the oceans have become 30% more acidic since the industrial revolution - that's the fastest rate of acidification in 55 million years.

Near shore springs called 'ojos' off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico have been discharging groundwater with naturally low-pH and low carbonate saturation near the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef for millennia. This phenomenon gives researchers the opportunity to examine, in the natural environment, the long term impacts of acidification on organisms, especially calcifying organisms such as reef-building corals. Lowering pH alters the balance of calcium carbonate in seawater, effectively reducing the concentration of carbonate ions that many marine organisms use to build shells and skeletons.

A research team led by Elizabeth Crook from the University of California Santa Cruz took water samples at varying distances from the ojos to measure temperature, salinity, pH, and nutrients. Data was also collected on the density and size of species living close to the ocean floor at varying distances from the ojo centers.

The three-year study, published in the journal Coral Reefs, measured a decrease in coral species diversity and a decline in the size of coral colonies in areas closer to the ojos. At all 10 ojo sites examined, three species of coral were observed that grow well in an acidic environment. Unfortunately these are rarely major contributors to the framework of this barrier reef. As ocean pH decreases the complex mix of coral species responsible for building the reef could be replaced by smaller, patchy colonies with reduced species diversity.

This study indicates that species response to ocean acidification will vary by location and species and highlights the need to understand the mechanisms corals use to take calcium on board even at lower pH. This will help build more accurate predictions of the future impacts of ocean acidification.

Find out more:

Crook, E.D. et al (2011). Calcifying coral abundance near low-pH springs: implications for future ocean acidification.
Coral Reefs, DOI 10.1007/s00338-011-0839-y

Cup of coffee

17:07 - Caffeine detects traces of human poo

Caffeine detects traces of human poo in waterways

Caffeine detects traces of human poo

Cup of coffeeWhat is really in our water? Dr. Sébastien Sauvé and his team of Chemists from the University of Montreal set out to answer this question by testing water sources around the Island of Montreal for traces of caffeine, carbamazepine (an anti-seizure drug increasingly used for psychiatric treatment) and fecal coliforms.

The team took samples from brooks, streams and sewer outfall pipes that collect storm waters and found they all contained various concentrations of these tracers, meaning all the water contained some sanitary contamination. Caffeine was used as a tracer because it is a useful indicator of pollution from sewers unlike fecal coliforms that could be from agricultural waste or industrial release. 

Currently E. coli bacteria is the common indicator used to detect fecal pollution from storm water discharge. The 120 individually sampled water sources showed a strong correlation between the presence of caffeine and the presence of E. coli bacteria concluding that caffeine could be used as an indicator of pollution from sewer systems.

Caffeine sources include coffee, tea, cola, products containing cocoa, and some over the counter medications. It is recognized as a widely consumed in all forms with approximately 3% of ingested caffeine being excreted through urine and ultimately making its way to water sources. That combined with the fact that caffeine takes a long time to degrade in the natural environment (approximately 3 months) makes it a useful marker for sewage contamination.

The study, published in the journal Chemosphere, leads the way to using caffeine as a new way of detecting waters - including coastal areas - that are polluted by human sewage.

Find out more:

Sauvé S. et al (2011). Fecal coliforms, caffeine and carbamazepine in stormwater collection systems in a large urban area.

View of a small region of the thin, disrupted, ice crust in the Conamara region of Jupiter's moon Europa showing the interplay of surface color with ice structures. The white and blue colors outline areas that have been blanketed by a fine dust of ice.

18:29 - Giant oceans in space could nurture life

Giant lake beneath the ice on Europa could harbour life

Giant oceans in space could nurture life

EuropaA recent discovery of liquid water on Jupiter's moon Europa arouses intrigue in the quest for life in outer space. Lead scientist Britney E. Schmidt from the University of Texas at Austin reported findings in the journal Nature of a body of water the volume of the North American Great Lakes under an ice cap of varying depths on Europa.  The interplay between liquid water and the nutrient rich ice give Europa and its ocean inhabitable qualities.

Researchers used images from Galileo spacecraft of two chaos terrains (circular, bumpy features) on Europa. To explain the creation of these features a model was developed based on processes found on Earth that create similar features in the form of ice shelves and glaciers overlaying volcanoes.

Confirmation of these findings would have to come from ice-probing missions to the chaos terrains on Europa to verify the results from the model because the inferred lakes are several kilometers below the ice surface. Thanks to 20 years of observing ice sheets and floating ice shelves here on Earth, scientists have the chance to understanding more about the processes going on beneath the ice on Europa.

Find out more:

Schmidt et al (2011). Active formation of 'chaos terrain' over shallow subsurface water on Europa.

Rime of the Modern Mariner - retelling of classic poem for our plastic times

Helen - In our special festive edition of Naked Oceans as we bring you our guide to ocean-friendly Christmas presents.

So far we've had a virtual piece of coral reef, and a sustainably sourced pet fish. Next I want to suggest something for book lovers - and art lovers - and poetry fans (so you've got many bases covered with this one). It's my favourite ocean book of the year, a beautiful retelling of Samuel Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Cover Rime of Modern Mariner by Nick HayesIllustrator Nick Hayes has produced a stunning graphic novel that places this thoroughly modern mariner on a park bench, talking to an office worker about his adventures in a sea of plastic.

I won't give away too much - just to say that Nick's artwork is exquisite - all in shades of blue, it echoes the Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai - and he uses it to sculpt a powerful message about the changing oceans...  and there's a fair bit of science in there too.

I especially liked the cameo played by the much-missed Roger Deakin and an appearance of sculptor David Nash's ash dome. You'll have to read it to find out more.

European lobster

22:00 - Adopt a baby lobster

This Christmas, why not adopt a baby lobster?

Adopt a baby lobster

Sarah - Christmas is a time when we treat ourselves to special food we wouldn't eat all year round. One of my very favourite things to eat is lobster - definitely a special occasion treat. And now, a British company, Wing of St Mawes, is offering to donate 50p to the National Lobster Hatchery for every lobster bought through their website. The lobsters are caught in Cornwall, which is also where the hatchery is based. Fishermen bring females that are brooding eggs to the hatchery where the eggs are reared until the juvenile lobsters are about three months old, before they're released back into the coastal waters around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.European lobster larvae

And actually the National Lobster Hatchery also has some great gifts on their website - you can buy 'Santa Claws', a little cuddly lobster with a santa hat, Christmas cards, and you can even sponsor a lobster and name it after a loved one before it gets released into the sea.

We've got links to both the Wing of St Mawes and the National Lobster Hatchery websites on our site, so do check them out if you're after an unusual oceans-based gift this Christmas!

Layers in an oyster shell, found on the beach of the James River, Chesapeake Bay, in Virginia.

24:33 - Oysters in Trouble

Another popular piece of seasonal seafood is the oyster, but a new report suggests we should be careful, due to infection of oysters by norovirus...

Oysters in Trouble

Helen - Talking of seasonal seafood - this time of year there are Rs in the month, so as the old-wives tale goes, it should be okay to eat shellfish. But here in the UK there's been a scare with oysters, with a report from the Food Standards Authority revealing that ¾ of oysters recently tested from 39 production sites across the UK were found to harbour the winter vomiting virus, AKA norovirus.

Officials declared it was difficult to say what the health risk was of these findings - since it's difficult to tell apart infectious from non-infectious material in the oysters. A review is currently underway by the European Food Safety Authority which will decide what the safe levels are for norovirus in oysters.Layers in an oyster shell

And over in France, Oysters have been hit hard by infestations of the oyster herpes virus. So, UK producers have the choice of either making a bunch of cash selling their stocks now to oyster-starved France - or hanging on to them for British consumers.

But - to be honest, until they figure out what safe levels of norovirus are for oysters here in the UK, I'll probably be giving them a miss.

26:30 - Animating a new route to ocean conservation

Support ocean conservation by sending singing fishy Christmas cards

Animating a new route to ocean conservation
with Joe Jones, Archipelago.co.uk

12 days of fishmas. JoandJoe underwater eCards.Joe Jones from design company Archipelago and Jo and Joe cards, tells us about his innovative approach to marine conservation using eye-catching animations. Meet Bernard the Gurnard and support PADI's Project Aware conservation activities around the world by sending some singing fish Christmas cards.

Joe: From these cards we then started getting inquires to create animations for organizations. The first people that approached us were the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and they asked us to make some films for children about climate change and how climate change was going to impact the Great Barrier Reef. There are three different films: What is Climate Change, What are the Impacts of Climate Change, and What is Coral Bleaching. Which is something which had never been explained very easily and still quite a lot of debates about what it was, what the extent of it was. So we created these three films for children and they were really well received. I'd say basically, since then, we've turned a whole business to focus on using animation to explain scientific concepts with an environmental focus.

Christmas penguins by Jo and Joe cardsHelen: Some of your videos are absolutely brilliant, I think we can only encourage listeners to go and have a look at your website and check some of the stuff out. The latest one I have seen is Bernard the Gurnard, who is fantastic.

Joe: Thank you, yeah.

Helen: And that is a campaign for creating protected areas here in the UK isn't it?

Joe: Yeah, we've been working with the Wildlife Trust for several years now on different campaigns and Bernard the Gurnard first made an appearance a couple of years ago as part of the original campaign to get a marine bill in place.

Because, basically, in the UK there almost zero protection for anything in the sea. If you want to go and dig up the sea bed because you think there are some minerals there you can pretty much do what you like and, as a result of that we are losing species left, right and center.

So, we created Bernard the Gurnard who is this impatient gurnard tapping his spines on a rock and saying basically "I'm waiting for some protection. Why don't you humans hurry up and get me some."

Humphead wrasse animation still by Jo and Joe cardsThis drove many thousands of people to an online petition which was part of the Wildlife Trust's efforts in getting the marine bill passed, which it was. Now we are at the stage where the marine bill is liable to get watered down the point that it doesn't mean anything because of commercial interests and politicians doing what politicians do.

It's very important that people get on board and make sure that we actually get marine protected areas around the UK coast.

Helen: What animal is next, or what creature is next for the e-cards?

Joe: Well, the most common request we get, and I think it's because I made a post somewhere saying please don't ask us to do this because it is so difficult, is an octopus. It has about a thousand moving parts and is difficult to animate naturally. So that is the next big challenge I think.

Helen: I think you should do a mimic octopus, that's even trickier.

Joe: Yep, Yep. That would be good, that would be good.

Helen: Well excellent, I look forward to seeing your octopus. And are there any Seahorse animation from Jo and Joe cardsupcoming campaigns, new ones coming out or do you have to keep quiet about them until they are actually out?

Joe: We have to keep quiet about some of them, although we are doing quite a lot of work with Sea Life. They are doing a lot of conservation work and they've never really talked about it very much but behind the scenes in most of the Sea Life Aquariums there is a lot of amazing sort of seahorse breeding programs and things like this going on and they are involved in a lot of animal rescue sanctuaries as well with different locations around the world.

So, we've got some animations now in the London Aquarium talking about general marine environmental issues. Such as marine debris and some of these sustainable fishing issues which obviously effect nearly everything. We are going to be rolling out a whole new bunch of those over the next year or so.

One thing which we are doing a lot of work on at the moment, and this is developing, is people are generally used to seeing campaign animation but it is essentially a character telling a story. Now that works very, very well for a known audience but the Wildlife Trust know the sort of people they are talking to and so they knew that Bernard the Gurnard was going to go down well with them and they were going to engage with it.

Christmas tree worm animation still from Joe JonesIf you are trying to reach a much wider audience than that, character animation doesn't necessarily work so well because you can easily get it wrong, there are a lot of cultural specifics which make it work.

So, we are developing this format called "explanimation". If you imagine taking an illustration and using animation to illustrate a concept or process or a device as efficiently as possible using the minimum amount of detail with the maximum about of key information.

Now with predictions that online video use is effectively going to be 90% of all internet traffic within the next couple of years. Video is established as a format, within that there is animation, within that there is "explanimation" and we think that is going to be the next big thing.

Find out more:Christmas manta ray animation still by Jo and Joe cards

Jo and Jo cards


Meet Bernard the Gurnard and support the Wildlife Trusts campaign to protect British seas

Project Aware

Cleaner wrasse and angelfish

33:52 - Critter of the Month - Cleaner wrasse

We're keeping things spick and span in Critter of the Month, with a little fish that likes to tidy up.

Critter of the Month - Cleaner wrasse
with Joshua Drew, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

Joshua - My name is Joshua Drew, I am a research biologist here at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois and my favorite marine creature is the cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus.

Cleaner wrasse and angelfishThis fish is just amazing. Every time I go underwater and I see it I am mesmerized by it. It does so many interesting things.

The thing I find most interesting about the cleaner wrasse is that, like the name suggests, they perform a cleaning service and what will happen is that these fish will sit out pretty obviously on the reef and they advertise their presence by bobbing up and down. And what will happen next is that other fish that have a lot of parasites will come up to these cleaning stations and sit there and hover with their mouths open and the cleaner wrasse will pick all over the fish taking off ectoparasites like little isopods or in some cases even leeches and it will clean up all the different groupers and wrasses that come through.

And this is not only a really important ecological service because it has been shown that when you remove cleaner wrasses the species diversity on reefs goes down. But as you can imagine it actually performs a very valuable health service for the fish, being cleaned.

And we have had other different studies shown that when you remove cleaner wrasses the parasite load, perhaps not surprisingly, on those fish shoots up and their overall health diminishes. So the cleaner wrasse is a really interesting fish for me because it provides such useful service, that even though it's in and of itself is a bite size meal, it can enter into the mouths of predatory fishes like groupers and snappers with impunity because its more worthwhile for those groupers and snappers to have those parasites removed than it is to grab a little snack.

Now the other thing that is really cool about this is that there are two other speciesCleaner wrasse and moray eel of fish that actually mimic the cleaner wrasse, so they look just like the cleaner wrasse but they have these really long, nasty fangs and they'll swim just the same way that the cleaner wrasse does and when an unsuspecting grouper or snapper or parrot fish comes up to the mimic and presents itself to get cleaned instead of having say the isopods removed from it, or the parasites removed from it, these mimics will come up and take a little bite out of the fish and then dart off into a whole before the fish, who was hoping to get a cleaning and instead got a little nip taken out of him, can retaliate.

Now I think that is just a really interesting example of mimicry and evolution on coral reef fishes, and the cleaner wrasse is just one of those characteristic members of Indo-Pacific reef fauna and they are just an amazing little guy to watch.

Find out more:

Joshua Drew's website

Cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) on


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