Mesmerized by the explosion of colors inside a marine fish store, a boy points to a bright yellow fish with a Pinocchio-like nose, its face neatly hidden by a black mask. Known to science as Forcipiger flavissimus, the longnose butterfly fish is easy on the eyes but hard to keep alive. The boy’s been parked in front of the aquarium for at least 20 minutes. Must’ve been a hard choice.
Wordlessly, the guardian of this humid, bubbling world scoops up the fish with a worn green net and chucks it into a plastic bag. “That’ll be 50 pesos.”
Welcome to Marine Fish Central, the Cartimar pet complex in Metro Manila’s Pasay City, where thousands of fish–and pesos–change hands daily. I’ve been in the boy’s shoes more times than I can remember, ever since our Lola took us to see “real live seahorses” in the 1980s.
Composed of about a hundred shops offering arowanas, tarantulas and everything in between, the complex has seen many changes but remains the country’s top aquarium fish hub.
Sea creatures for sale
There are 3 basic types of fish–saltwater fish from the sea, freshwater fish from rivers or lakes, and brackish water fish from zones where fresh and saltwater mix. Because of the volatile nature of rivers, most fresh and brackish water fish have learned to adapt to dramatic fluctuations in water quality.
Freshwater fish like the country’s introduced tilapia species can for example, rapidly adapt to brown-water conditions each time monsoon rains engorge rivers with mud and silt. In contrast, brightly-hued saltwater or marine fish live in the single most stable environment on Earth–the ocean–where large-scale changes occur not in days, but in millennia.
Because of this, most are unprepared for life in the average home aquarium, where water parameters fluctuate daily.
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