Recently I've had the pleasure to work as Program Coordinator of a new initiative with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation called the Don't Release Me campaign. The goal is to prevent the release of non native pets and subsequent ecological and economic damages by promoting responsible pet ownership. A few scary facts about the pet trade:

  • Nearly 150 million exotic fishes comprising 2,000 different species are imported into the US annually for the aquarium trade (USGS)
  • At least 185 different species of exotic fish have been caught in US waters, with 75 known to have breeding populations 
  • Over half of the introductions are from people releasing aquarium fish into the wild 

The information below was originally drafted by Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects of REEF, as an introduction to the Don't Release Me campaign. To learn more, visit us at

Invasive species cause an estimated 100 billion dollars of damage to native ecosystems and economies. Governments and municipalities spend excessive amounts of time and money dealing with established invasions. Controlling invasive species is hugely expensive and rarely results in eradication.  Prevention is the most cost effective way to address potential invasions, but successful prevention requires constant attention include education and awareness to those who may be closest to potential invasions.

Pathways for aquatic invasive species can vary greatly depending on the organism, but include transport in shipping ballast water, hitchhiking on hulls (biofouling), aquaculture escapes, live food trade releases and releases of unwanted pets.  Regulations are in place to help address ballast water issues and aquaculture escapes and laws provide fines for intentional releases of non-native species, however, many pet owners may not be aware of the economic and ecological harm that seemingly innocent releases can cause.

In a partnership with the Pet Industry, state and federal organizations and agencies, REEF is providing pre-printed aquarium bags to pet retailers with prevention messaging.  The Don’t Release Me! campaign seeks to educate pet owners by putting the message in front of pet owners where they will see it the most, and longest, during the acclimation period of the animals in the home aquarium itself.  Recommended acclimation procedures can take an hour or more during which time pet owners are continuously handling and watching their fish bag.  Messaging directing owners not to release their pets and providing a website for more information can help educate owners and prevent releases, saving money and protecting our resources.

To sponsor the Don’t Release Me campaign and allow us to supply bags to retailers click here.