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Protecting herbivorous fish, to secure a future for corals

Herbivorous fish rarely go unnoticed. Their brilliant colors illuminate the reef to the delight of scuba divers. But more importantly, these iconic fish are also vital for the conservation of coral reefs.

Herbivorous fish feed on the algae that grow on corals and compete with them for light and oxygen. By eating the algae, these tiny fish play a big role in the survival of the entire ecosystem.

Species of these herbivorous fish include: parrotfish, which eat corals that break off the reef and excrete them as white sand; damselfish, which fend off the macro algae growth that kills coral; and surgeonfish, whose most famous representative is Dory from Finding Nemo.

But corals are quickly losing their greatest allies. Populations of herbivorous fish are dwindling, particularly in the Caribbean.

The overfishing of commercial species is driving artisanal fishermen to capture even the youngest herbivorous fish, preventing those species from replenishing their numbers.

The loss of these fish is one more threat to coral reefs, already fragile ecosystems that are increasingly vulnerable to climate change. Preserving our reefs will ensure we continue to enjoy the services they provide. Among other things, coral reefs act as fish hatcheries, natural barriers against storms and hurricanes, and the source of medicines that treat illnesses like cancer and Alzheimer’s.

What AIDA is doing: 

  • Informing decision makers, fishing communities, and the tourism industry on the importance of protecting and preserving herbivorous fish.
  • Helping implement strategies to save herbivorous fish in Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama.
  • Advocating for the implementation of regional and international treaties to protect herbivorous fish.
  • Creating connections between organizations and other sectors to work together and strengthen our collective efforts.
Klaus Stiefel_CC BY-NC 2.0

The Latest

Coral reefs | 23 July 2019

Resolution provides measures to protect corals in the Colombia Caribbean

Setting a positive precedent in Colombia and an important region of the Greater Caribbean, CORALINA prohibited the fishing and commercialization of several species of herbivorous and omnivorous fish.read more

Climate Change, Oceans | 12 July 2019

Why these algae-eating fish may be corals’ greatest allies

Numerous studies have shown that herbivorous fish play a fundamental role in the health and survival of coral reefs by removing the algae that robs corals of the light and space they need to grow.read more

Coral reefs, Oceans | 14 October 2018

Organizations request Mexico list parrotfish as protected species

Parrotfish are vital to the health of coral reefs, and the Mexican State has an obligation to protect them. In a letter to the government, AIDA outlined the international obligations Mexico has to...read more