The humble clownfish is smaller than a human fist. But when a diver approaches its underwater house, amongst the tentacles of a sea anemone on the world’s coral reefs, the little orange creature rears up and adopts a fierce protecting posture.
“They’re quite aggressive fish,” says Karen Burke da Silva, a marine biologist at Australia’s Flinders University.
“If you come close to a clown fish, it will come out of its anemone and try to bite you…it doesn’t make sense.”
Despite its territorial nature, the clownfish is one in every of the most simply acknowledged coral-reef inhabitants.
The orange-and-white striped species was made well-known by the fashionable 2003 animated movie “Finding Nemo.” The movie informed the story of an grownup clownfish trying to find his son Nemo, after a diver captures him from the wild. But its field workplace success had some unintended penalties.
Da Silva says the film triggered a surge of demand for pet clownfish.
“The film portrays quite a different message, which is ‘don’t take Nemo out of the sea.’ And yet people responded quite differently,” she says.
“The places where they were getting those fish were actually from the wild,” she explains, including that overfishing led to native extinction in some locations.
Da Silva is co-founder of an initiative known as “Saving Nemo.” It companions with schools to advertise clownfish conservation and educate college students about marine habitats.
At Belgian Gardens Primary School in the Australian metropolis of Townsville, college students volunteer to assist breed child clownfish.
“We breed them so we can give fish that we breed to people who want clownfish. So they don’t have to take them out of the wild,” explains 11-year previous Imogen Everson
She and her classmates clear tanks, domesticate the artemia — or sea monkeys — used to feed clownfish, and so they monitor the development of hatchling clownfish.
In one in every of the tanks, she identifies a small cluster of what look like bubbles that line the within a clay pot. They are clownfish eggs.
“The dad, the smaller clownfish, will always check on them … and gives them oxygen,” Everson says.
Ryan Pedley, the principal of the college, says captive-bred clownfish are later traded to pet shops for the aquarium provides wanted to assist maintain the program going.
“It’s another way to immerse our students in reef ecology,” Pedley says.
“The kids don’t actually have to visit the reef. They can do their part by breeding clownfish in captivity and donate them to the fish shops.”
Coral reef die-off
Marine biologists say in recent times, the clownfish has been confronted by a more recent, probably extra harmful problem: local weather change.
Rising temperatures round the globe are bleaching and killing the coral reefs and the sea anemones with which clownfish share a symbiotic relationship.
In reality, in 2016 and 2017, successive marine warmth waves killed off round half of the coral on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest reef habitat.
“If the [clownfish] can’t find a sea anemone to call home and get protection from, we might see that population die,” says Jodie Rummer, a marine biologist at James Cook University.
Rummer’s analysis has concluded that if sea temperatures rise between 1.5 and three levels Celsius, coral reef fish lose between 40 to 70% of their efficiency — together with swimming, feeding and replica.
The scientific consensus concludes world temperatures are roughly 1 diploma hotter at present than throughout the pre-industrial period in the late 19th century. Scientific organizations like NASA forecast the planet will proceed to heat in coming a long time on account of growing carbon dioxide emissions.
Rummer argues clownfish and different marine species will doubtless want extra drastic assist than college captive breeding applications.
“The way to protect them is a really, really big solution: that’s kind of ending our reliance on fossil fuels, which is directly related to the warming of the oceans,” she says.