A choice that isn’t available to most aquatic animals. So how is it that the fish most commonly known for its breeding success in agricultural environments is the exception?

In celebration of marine month, we take a quick dip into the pool of conservation awareness around aquatic animals.

A name that rolls off the tongue and serves as the common label to over one hundred species of cichlid fish, tilapia. Also called muddy and earthy and frowned upon by chefs who see the fish as inferior to saltwater line fish. However, if we continue to indulge in fish as a culinary delight, tilapia are the species of choice when it comes to implementing sustainable farming practices, because they are adaptable and hardy.

So how are tilapia linked to the more salty side of aquatic life? In the past two years tilapia have been discovered by researchers to be adaptable to saltwater environments. Tilapia are able to physiologically adapt to varying salinity levels making them viable contenders to step in as superheroes in the quest to reel in the effects of climate change.

Biochemists continue to research and understand how stress-tolerant fish like tilapia convert environmental signals into beneficial biological and physiological outcomes that allow them to adapt in environments of varying salinity levels – a feat that is deadly for most other species. Unlike land animals, aquatic dwelling animals constantly work to maintain a level of balance between the water within their bodies and the water in which they live. This balancing act, known as osmoregulation, is threatened by climate change. As the polar ice caps continue to melt, sea levels rise, which causes the salt content of oceans to decrease and the salinity of coastal rivers or bodies of water to increase. And so both marine life and freshwater creatures are affected. The topic of debate is now concerned with whether or not other fish species will evolve to adapt to salinity levels with the changing climate conditions, or if tilapia are perhaps our only hope for creating conservation efforts around regulating the survival of fish species under these life altering conditions.

CCFA has a vested interest in tilapia, which in the past few years have been introduced to Lake Gishanda in Rwanda, the body of water which, post genocide, was devoid of animal life. Part of the Akagera Fisheries Project that operates within Akagera National Park, the introduction of tilapia to Lake Gishanda aims to stimulate sustainable farming practices in order to generate income for local communities, through job opportunities and food security. As this fish population increases the community will be in a position to supply the local hotel industry, including the nearby Akagera Game Lodge by Mantis.

Perhaps in a few years time marine biologists will be working more closely with freshwater fish farmers. What we know for now is that all life is interconnected so no species, tiny or muddy, should ever be dismissed when considering conservation efforts.