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Thai Eye: Parrotfish are much more than pretty sea creatures

Thai Eye: Parrotfish are much more than pretty sea creatures

PHUKET: This past month, I saw an interesting news story about Parrotfish. The main issue of the story, provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is in regard to the Parrotfish that are currently sold widespread in supermarkets.


By Kanokwan Homcha-aim

Monday 28 July 2014, 05:12PM


Photo: Richard Ling

Photo: Richard Ling

The IUCN is actively encouraging people to stop buying and consuming this important fish. This story led me to a Thai Facebook page with a strong stance of anti-Parrotfish consumption.

Here in Phuket, I found Parrotfish being sold in many restaurants and local markets; quite often already on ice ready to be cooked à-la-carte. I had to get to the bottom of this story and see why this environmentally important fish was also very important to the local restaurant market.

Well, I must admit that the first thing that popped into my head was “What’s the big deal? Parrotfish are abundant and I find them nearly everywhere when I dive around the local reefs”.

However, after performing a little research, I found that this issue is very serious and can affect the reef at a level that I previously thought unimaginable.
For some people who have no idea what Parrotfish look like, well they look exactly like a parrot.

They are very colorful and have a parrot-like beak that can grind algae from coral and other rocky substrates. Parrotfish are easily found in shallow oceans throughout the world, most abundant in the Indo-Pacific.

They are found along coral reefs, rocky coasts, and sea grass beds, and play a significant role in bioerosion. Parrotfish spend most of their day eating algae off the coral reefs then they digest the edible portions from the rock and excrete it as sand, helping to create small islands and the sandy beaches.

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One Parrotfish can produce 90 kg of sand per year. Therefore, the Parrotfish’s eating habit is important for the production and distribution of coral sands and can prevent coral reefs from being overgrown by seaweed.

In Thailand, people normally catch Parrotfish to keep as ornamental pets, not for eating. However, currently it is possible to find Parrotfish on menus throughout the island and beyond. Wide spread consumption of Parrotfish will lead to over-fishing. Now, let me show you what happens when herbivourous fish such as the Parrotfish are removed from their coral reef habitats:

Research from Dr. Peter Mumby, Queensland University in 2013 found that reefs in the conservation zone (where no fishing is allowed and Parrotfish exist) have a 6-times faster recovery rate than reefs located in fisheries zone.

Experiments in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia showed that reefs surrounded with herbivorous fish can recover faster from bleaching; while reefs with no herbivorous fish are fully covered with algae.

Most Caribbean reefs have been dominated by algae since the mid-1990s due to a combination of mass die-off of sea urchins and the overfishing of Parrotfish. The healthiest Caribbean reefs are those that still have robust Parrotfish populations.

Parrotfish are not only beautiful, but can also help restore coral reefs. The next time you visit a seafood restaurant, please consider ordering something other than Parrotfish. These beautiful creatures should swim freely in the reefs and not end up on your plate.

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