The text on this site is presented as an archival version of the script of "Ocean Planet," a 1995 Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition. The content reflects the state of knowledge at the time of the exhibition, and has not been updated.

Bombs, poison, and scrapers damage habitats

Cyanide Poisoning wouldn't seem an ideal way to catch fish (and it's generally illegal), but many tropical aquarium fish are captured after being stunned with sodium cyanide §.

Cyanide helps collectors catch fish, but it also destroys coral reef habitat and other plants and animals. As fish populations continue to decline, fishermen begin cyanide collecting in new areas and destroy even more habitat.

Cyanide fishing, Luzon, Philippines

Fishermen squirt sodium cyanide into reef crevices where fish hide. Almost 80 percent of the marine aquarium fish sold internationally come from the Philippines, many caught by cyanide fishing §.
photo © Howard Hall/HHP

Although the practice has been outlawed, and many importers refuse cyanide-tainted fish, widespread use of cyanide continues.
photo © Jeff Foott


Blast fishing catches food fish in a flash, but it's dangerous to fishermen, devastating to fishes and coral reefs, and even though prohibited in most countries, still used on coral reefs in Asia, Africa, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean. A single blast can destroy thousands of years of coral growth §.

Blast fishing, Philippines, 1987

Preparing the Bomb
The Blast
Harvesting the "catch"

Blast fishing is also common in Guam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Tanzania. Blasting has caused reef damage in half of the countries in the South Pacific. A beer-bottle-sized bomb exploding near the bottom will shatter all stony corals in a circle 10 feet (3 m) wide. A gallon-sized bomb takes out an area about 33 feet (10 m) in diameter §.
photos © Lynn Funkhouser


Dragging a net along the sea floor is one of the most common forms of fishing around the world. Bottom trawling catches fish and shrimp easily, but it disrupts the complex communities of plants and animals, many of them very small or hidden in the sediment, that live on sandy and muddy sea floors §.

Bottom trawler off the coast of Denmark
Trawlers often scrape the same area several times each year. Sea-floor species can be displaced, and the types and availability of nutrients changed. Sediments whipped up by trawling can make water a thousand times cloudier than normal, limiting resettlement and feeding of plants and animals. §
photo © Nordsomuseet (North Sea Museum), Denmark

Helping Hands

Say No to cyanide; Yes to hand nets

The International Marine Life Alliance, a private conservation organization, has been training fishermen in the Philippines in the use of collection nets. Nets are cheaper to use than cyanide §.

Net-training class for tropical-fish collectors
Luzon, Philippines, 1992
photo © Steve Robinson/Sea of Cortez Handcaught Marines, Inc.

Anti-cyanide campaign banner
Luzon, Philippines, 1992
photo © Steve Robinson/Sea of Cortez Handcaught Marines, Inc.

Local fishermen help shattered reefs §

In the mid-1980s the economy of the Bindoy region on Negros in the Philippines was collapsing because of overfishing and blast- fishing damage to reefs and mangroves--vital fish nurseries. Local fishermen have replanted over 100,000 mangrove trees and built over a thousand artificial reefs of bamboo, tires, and concrete.

Replanted mangroves
Negros, Philippines, 1993
photo © Don Hinrichsen

More Information

Ocean Planet Exhibition Floorplan

gene carl feldman ( (301) 286-9428
Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)