The Marine Breeding Initiative

An exciting new tool for marine breeders has been released. The Marine Breeding Inititaive (MBI) was created as a tool to encourage marine aquaria hobbyists to get involved in the captive breeding of marine organisms. The MBI was designed by several Board members of the Marinelife Aquarium Society of Michigan with the help of leading marine breeding experts Matt Pedersen and Matt Wittenrich to be a standardized award system and database that can be easily adopted by aquarium societies and site owners to promote captive breeding amongst their members.  The adoption of a universal format promotes competition between groups as well, thus always encouraging innovation and discovery.   

Purpose of the MBI:   
1. To encourage captive breeding of ornamental fish and invertebrates. 
2. To share knowledge of captive breeding techniques.   
3. To enable more people to participate in captive breeding.   
4. To recognize outstanding achievement in the captive breeding of marine ornamental fish and invertebrates.   
5. To create a pool of information for hobbyists and professionals to use in breeding of established and untried species.   
6. To reduce reliance on wild caught animals for the marine aquarium trade by supporting captive breeding and sustainable collection.

The MBI creates a standardized model that uses a central database to share information between all MBI sites while rewarding and encouraging new hobbyists to begin breeding and existing breeders to tackle more difficult species and try new techniques. 

For anyone who's familiar with the freshwater side of things, the MBI can be succinctly explained as a Breeders Award Program (BAP). Many freshwater clubs have them. The problem with today’s typical freshwater BAP is that they are different in every club. Not so with the MBI. The intention is to roll out the MBI to all saltwater Clubs around the country for a UNIFIED BAP. This means the following:  

#1. Breeder's points / ranks remain tied to them if they should move from one club to another. No starting over at the bottom if you move halfway across the country.  

#2. The MBI has been set up so that the participant decides what "club" they are playing for. If someone is a member of a half dozen clubs and organizations, they can choose which organization to designate their points to. Once points are attributed to an org, the breeder can't transfer them to a different org. So think of it like being a baseball player. A breeder has lifetime stats, but plays for a particular team, also scoring points for whatever team they are currently playing for. Common sense would say that individuals should "play" for their home club, provided it's a MBI participating club.   

#3. Net result - intra-club competition! It allows any local club to compete with any other club around the world. It's all in the name of competition driving and encouraging captive propagation of not only marine fish but also of invertebrates.  As we all know, the simple spirit of competition can be a tremendously motivating force. 

The first step to get involved with the MBI is to create a Breeder's Journal. Breeder’s journals use a standardized layout for data that contains all of the information regarding each breeder's pair. As a project progresses, the breeder records information, starting with the initial pairing of the fish, or invertebrates, continuing onward to the spawning, hatching, and rearing of the offspring. Photographic documentation is also required for each event and can be updated over time.

Again departing from the “standard” Freshwater BAP model, in the MBI program, points are awarded for milestones (“events) within a breeding project.  This is done under the recognition that not every project is a success, but there is still merit in recording and sharing failures. Breeding Events are separated into four areas: Spawn, Hatch, Settlement, and 60 Days Post-settlement. When a breeder achieves an event a report can then be filed into the MBI reporting system. After the report has been approved by three members of the MBI Council points are awarded to the breeder. Points are awarded only once per event, per species, per breeder. This encourages breeders to continue working with more species. Species are grouped in four categories by difficulty and points are awarded accordingly. 


As MBI participants accumulate breeding successes (completing and documenting all 4 breeding events) they move up in rank within the MBI system. Ranking is an at-a-glance gauge of experience and breeding success (and offers a bit of bragging rights).  Through the awarding of points and the ranking requirements, the MBI is designed to promote well-rounded breeding practices as well as encouraging beginning breeders by permitting progress even if initial success is hard to come by. The highest rank available is that of “Grand Master Breeder”, of which possibly only one or two people in the country would currently be qualified to fill (provided they kept public journals and filled out MBI reports)!

Classes are grouped generally as follows:    
Class A-Easiest species to breed in captivity   
Class B-More difficult Species but still regularly bred in captivity   
Class C-Species considered very difficult to breed in captivity   
Class D-Species never or hardly ever successfully bred in captivity 

Points will be awarded as follows:   
Points will be awarded at 4 stages during the breeding process; spawning event, hatching event, settlement, and 60 days post-settlement (or 60 days after birth if live bearing species).    
Class A: 60pts   
Class B: 120pts   
Class C: 300pts   
Class D: 700pts

As of September 2012 the MBI has a total of 868 approved reports for 91 different species by 83 registered breeders from around the world. Currently, the top four breeders are Matt Pedersen (US), Efren Villegas (MX), Darren Nancarrow (AU), Doni Marie Posey (US), and Jonathan Foster (US).

Besides being an online resource for marine breeders, the MBI also hosted the Marine Breeder's Workshop in March of this year – possibly a “first of its kind” event dedicated exclusively to Marine Ornamental Culture at the hobbyist level.. The 2010 workshop included presentations by Matt Pedersen and Matt Wittenrich as well as a personal Q&A session afterward. The Workshop was attended by over 40 people from around the Midwest. The first round of breeder awards was also given out at the Workshop.  

Another important area of the MBI is the search for new "first foods" for larval stage fish and invertebrates. Nannochloropsis (microalgae) and rotifers have been the default first food sources for larvae but they aren't effective for all species. Working to culture new foods such as various copepods and different microalgaes for better larval enrichment and growth is a prime necessity that several participants are focusing on.  The MBI Committee is currently developing a culture reporting mechanism to encourage the ongoing search for new and different feeds. 

Innovations in larval collection and rearing methods are also encouraged. Anything that will help make captive breeding easier and more effective in the long run is of great importance.  As part of the MBI scoring and ranking system, there is even an “X Prize” element reserved for recognizing outstanding achievements not necessarily directly tied to breeding successes with an individual species.

Utilizing the internet and modern software techniques, the MBI seeks to bring a world-class, 21st Century Marine Breeder's Award program to clubs and sites around the country and even the globe.  As more people get involved by creating journals and submitting event reports the database grows.  Residing in a digital format, this information is readily accessible and searchable.  Anyone interested in captive breeding can easily search the MBI database to find information on species that are being worked with in a standardized, no-nonsense format, with additional information being available through the breeder’s original journal entries. Using the MBI program will make captive breeding information more accessible to everyone as well as making the captive breeding process easier to understand for the average hobbyist.  

With the help of the MBI program and breeders from around the world, captive breeding will become something that is increasingly easier and fun to do. There is nothing more exciting in the hobby than seeing your first clownfish eggs hatch or a male Banggai Cardinalfish release his fully developed young.  With increasing economic pressure on the marine aquarium industry and not-for-profit R&D resources focused almost exclusively on food-fish culture, it largely falls to the hobbyists to close the gaps and make innovations.  The MBI offers an incentive structure and a roadmap for hobbyists, clubs and sites to enter the exciting and challenging activity of propagating marine ornamentals at home.