Abstract Papua New Guinea has sometimes been called the world's last frontier for relatively undamaged coral reefs and their resources. In 2007, the country joined its neighbours in the marine aquarium trade. By licensing a private company, Papua New Guinea tried an alternative approach to the introduction of this activity. Under the so-called SeaSmart Programme, over 100 fishers were trained in sustainable collection techniques and handling of organisms, until the programme was shut down in 2010, and replaced by its successor, EcoAquariums PNG. This article contains the first study on the introduction of the marine aquarium trade into Papua New Guinea. It evaluates the overall outcomes of the SeaSmart Programme, lists targeted species, and their prices. The main focus is on the local collectors, and on the impacts of this new activity on them and their communities. Benefits from collecting marine ornamentals are assessed and their contribution to household income is quantified. Perceptions on non-financial benefits of the SeaSmart Programme are also gathered. The empirical work was carried out between September 2010 and February 2011 in the Central Province of Papua New Guinea. A total of 199 fishers including 44 aquarium fishers were interviewed in eight different communities in the Central Province of Papua New Guinea. The results show that marine aquarium fishing does provide benefits to local resource collectors, but also that this “sustainable” way of collecting of marine ornamentals might lead to some depletion.