Saving clownfish means finding Nemo on our reefs for years to come
Marine Biologists like us around the world are concerned we may lose Nemo in the wild. Clownfish, also called anemonefish, are suffering from habitat loss as coral reefs around the world decline due to global warming. 

Clownfish are dependent on stinging sea anemones, which thrive on healthy coral reefs to provide shelter from predators.[1] Unfortunately, anemones are now bleaching and dying, losing their colourful symbiotic algae because of rising water temperatures (much like corals do).[2] These 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.[3]
As popular target species for commercial aquarium collectors, clownfish have another threat to deal with- the compounding effects of unsustainable harvesting, particularly in the Philippines and Indonesia where most are collected.[4]
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 over 30 years old
  • Both clownfish and anemones depend on each other for survival - so if one goes, so does the other[5]
It is clear that an alternative to collecting wild clownfish is desperately needed
Nursery breeding is an easy way to prevent overcollection of clownfish in the wild. At the moment 7 out of the 28 species of clownfish are being captive-bred at multiple centres across Australia. Unfortunately, none of the 10 host anemone species are bred in captivity for aquariums.[6]
What about other marine aquarium species?
Over 90% of all marine aquarium species are taken from the wild. Up to 30 million individuals are supplied from about 45 countries, around two thirds coming from Indonesia and the Philippines alone. The United States is the world’s largest importer of marine ornamental species, with imports representing 80% of global trade, followed by Europe and Japan.[7]
The Royal Blue Tang (Dory), is currently not able to be bred in captivity, so if you see a blue tang in an aquarium shop, it came from the wild. It is estimated that around 400,000 blue tangs are collected each year for the pet trade.[8]  

Saving Nemo Director Karen Burke da Silva speaks to news reporters at ABC about clownfish and our breeding program 


[1] Burke da Silva, K & Nedosyko, A 2016, 'Sea Anemones and Anemonefish: A Match Made in Heaven', in The Cnidaria, Past, Present and Future, Springer, pp. 425-38.

[2] Hughes, TP, Kerry, JT, Álvarez-Noriega, M, Álvarez-Romero, JG, Anderson, KD, Baird, AH, Babcock, RC, Beger, M, Bellwood, DR, Berkelmans, R, Bridge, TC, Butler, IR, Byrne, M, Cantin, NE, Comeau, S, Connolly, SR, Cumming, GS, Dalton, SJ, Diaz-Pulido, G, Eakin, CM, Figueira, WF, Gilmour, JP, Harrison, HB, Heron, SF, Hoey, AS, Hobbs, J-PA, Hoogenboom, MO, Kennedy, EV, Kuo, C-y, Lough, JM, Lowe, RJ, Liu, G, McCulloch, MT, Malcolm, HA, McWilliam, MJ, Pandolfi, JM, Pears, RJ, Pratchett, MS, Schoepf, V, Simpson, T, Skirving, WJ, Sommer, B, Torda, G, Wachenfeld, DR, Willis, BL & Wilson, SK 2017, 'Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals', Nature, vol. 543, p. 373.

[3] Pankhurst, NW & Munday, PL 2011, 'Effects of climate change on fish reproduction and early life history stages', Marine and Freshwater Research, vol. 62, no. 9, pp. 1015-26.

[4] Rhyne, AL, Tlusty, MF, Schofield, PJ, Kaufman, L, Morris Jr, JA & Bruckner, AW 2012, 'Revealing the appetite of the marine aquarium fish trade: the volume and biodiversity of fish imported into the United States', PloS one, vol. 7, no. 5, p. e35808.

[5] Nedosyko, AM, Young, JE, Edwards, JW & da Silva, KB 2014, 'Searching for a toxic key to unlock the mystery of anemonefish and anemone symbiosis', PloS one, vol. 9, no. 5, p. e98449.

[6]  Burke da Silva  & Nedosyko, op.cit., p. 425-38.

[7]  Rhyne, Tlusty, Schofield, Kaufman, Morris & Bruckner, op. cit., p. e35808.

[8]  Rhyne, Tlusty, Schofield, Kaufman, Morris & Bruckner, op. cit., p. e35808.