Jun 27, 2008

Nemo no more?

Let's join some dots ...

  • Nemo is not eaten by people.
  • Nemo is taken from the wild only for the aquarium trade.
  • Since the film "Finding Nemo"...
  • Demand for Nemo in the aquarium trade rose sharply.
  • Wild populations of Nemo dropped sharply.
  • Nemos are now candidates for listing as endangered and could become locally extinct where they are overharvested.
More in this article ...

I can't find Nemo! Pet trade threatens clownfish
Hannah Strange, The Times 26 Jun 08;
full article on wildsingapore news

Five years after the hit film that endeared the clownfish to audiences the world over, Nemo is becoming increasingly difficult to find.

The lovable tropical species, immortalised in the smash Pixar movie Finding Nemo, is facing extinction in many parts of the world because of soaring demand from the pet trade, according to marine biologists.

Parents whose children who fell in love with Nemo at the cinema are seeking out the clownfish in ever greater numbers, leading to over-harvesting of wild specimens because captive breeding programmes cannot cope with demand.

Dr Billy Sinclair, of the University of Cumbria, who has been studying clownfish populations for five years, says the species should now be listed as endangered.

Studies of clownfish on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have revealed a dramatic population decline since the release of the movie in 2003. Shoals that used to number dozens of clownfish have dwindled to just a few specimens, leaving them with difficulty breeding, Dr Sinclair says.

“In one coral reef we looked at in Keppel Bay, clownfish populations have dropped from 25 to just six in two years,” he says. The number of clownfish caught accidentally by commercial fishing operations had also seen a large drop since the movie’s release.

Over-harvesting for the pet trade at a time when many reefs are starting to die back from bleaching - caused by rising sea temperatures - is thought to be the main culprit.

Dr Sinclair said the film – the best-selling DVD of all time at over 40 million copies – had done much to educate children about marine life. But as the tiny, brightly-coloured creature had since become a “must-have” pet, captive breeding programmes could now only meet about 50 per cent of demand. The rest are captured from the wild.

“I am not saying it is solely down to over-harvesting as climate change is clearly having an impact on the coral reefs and anemones on which the clownfish live,” Dr Sinclair says.

“But existing harvesting programmes will have to be reviewed in the light of what is happening to the reefs or we could see local extinctions in the near future.”

Following the release of
Finding Nemo, it became a favourite screening at snorkelling and diving hotspots around the world. But within months, the scuba diving industry was reporting a steep decline in sightings of the diminutive creature, while some pet suppliers saw an eight-fold increase in sales.

1 comment:

Ivan said...

I believe the species discussed in the article is the percula clownfish (Amphiprion percula).

This is tragic and painfully ironic, considering one of the main plots of the movie involved a bunch of aquarium inhabitants trying to escape life in captivity.

What makes this even worse, is that clownfish were among the first marine species to be cultured and bred on a large scale in captivity. Back in the early 90s, there were already books showing how clownfish could be encouraged to spawn in the home aquarium, with advice on how to care for the tiny larvae and fry. Most of the aquarium magazines (e.g. Tropical Fish Hobbyist, Freshwater and Marine Aquarium, Practical Fishkeeping) I've read highly emphasise the purchase of captive-bred specimens over wild-caught.

Simply put, for a species that can be readily bred by any serious aquarist, it is downright unnecessary to have to collect clownfish from the wild.

In the freshwater hobby, being able to successfully breed one's fish is often seen as a great achievement, especially with species newly introduced into the hobby, or with species that have proven difficult to breed in captivity. Unfortunately, such a culture has yet to seriously catch on with the marine side. While many fish, and even corals and giant clams are now commercially bred, it appears that the current level of demand for captive-bred marine fish over wild-caught simply does not motivate more people to take up the challenge of meeting that demand, and easing the pressure on wild stocks.

It's a darn shame, really.

Benefits of captive-bred over wild-caught clownfish:

One example of a breeder of marine organisms for the aquarium trade: