Finding Dory clownfish
The Finding Nemo sequal ‘Finding Dora,’ could mean clownfish have to face the very issue little Nemo dealt with in the first film – abduction from their reefs.
Flinders University and the University of Queensland experts are warning viewers not to take the “wrong message” from the film after researchers found a popularity in tropical fish piqued by the first movie caused clownfish populations to decline on coral reefs.
Because of this, they have teamed up in an effort to save Nemo – they want to ensure the clownfish population does not decline after the film.
The two universities have set up the The Saving Nemo Conservation Fund which aims to provide education, awareness and captive breeding programs.
The aim of the fund is to protect popular marine ornamental species that are often captured on reefs for sale in pet shops.
This is exactly what happened to Nemo the clownfish in the first film – he was captured by a diver and sold to an Australian dentist, to languish in a tank until his father came to save him.
Clownfish are dependent on stinging sea anemones, which thrive on healthy coral reefs, to provide shelter from predators. But anemones are bleaching and dying much like corals do by losing their colourful symbiotic algae because of rising water temperatures. This is an urgent concern because dying reefs mean less anemones, offering clownfish less places to hide and protect their young.
Oceans are also becoming more acidic because of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which research suggests could threaten the survival of some clownfish species by blocking the chemical signals juvenile clownfish use to find their way back to their home anemones.
As popular target species for commercial aquarium collectors anemonefish are also at risk due to the compounding effects of unsustainable harvesting for trade particularly in the Phillipines and Indonesia where most are collected.
Clownfish and their anemones have several characteristics that make them vulnerable to extinction:
Anemones are long-lived, slow growing and have relatively low reproductive rates (i.e. they spawn infrequently, have low spawning success, and have short larval lifespan)
Clownfish also have limited dispersal capabilities, are habitat specialists and have long life spans up to 30 years
Both clownfish and anemones depend on each other for survival so if one goes, so does the other