SciSun: Found and Lost   Leave a comment

‘Nemo’ is a Latin word meaning ‘no one’. Throughout history, many characters in literature and arts have been named ‘Nemo’ – usually as someone who is vulnerable, minimized, or otherwise lost. A few years ago in a popular movie about a small fish trying to find his way home, the title character was a Clownfish named Nemo. Today, the Orange Clownfish (Amphiprion percula) – along with eight other reef fish – are being considered for threatened or endangered protection due to population stress and loss of natural environment. While the movie was about Nemo finding his way back, it seems possible that we still could loose the clownfish, forever.

Clownfish – along with other reef fish such as Damselfish, Angelfish and Anemonefish – all live around, and in, coral reefs (it’s a good thing they don’t live in caves, or other enclosed spaces. Then they would be ‘cell-fish’. And no one likes an egotistical fish). Coral reefs are composed of billions of tiny coral polyps that produce the calcium carbonate that forms the hard, stony coral. So it’s not actually coral we think of when we see the large, colorful, almost-castle-like undersea formations; it’s the calcium homes of the coral animals. And thanks to these coral structures, complex environments are created that become home to countless species – small fish, large fish looking for the small fish and even larger fish looking for those fish; sea turtles; snails, anemones, sponges, shrimp, crabs, and all types of other sea life. It’s like a seafood restaurant, but without the all-you-want biscuits.

Within these reefs – which consist of less than 0.1% of the ocean but provide homes for over 25% of all ocean species – are found the small Clown, Damsel, Angel and other reef fish who depend on the coral for food and shelter. The clown even lives inside anemones, a soft, trunk-like animal, even though the anemone has poisonous barbs it uses to catch and eat other fish. While we’d think the clownfish and the anemones might be really, really good friends, what protects clown-ey isn’t the bonds of friendship as much as the protective coat of mucus that cover the fishes’ body. (If you’re trying to avoid someone, we do not suggest covering your body in mucus. Although it probably would work to keep most people away).

“Sure, some say it's too big for just the three of us, but look at the fantastic open-space plan and bonus tentacles!”

“Sure, some say it’s too big for just the three of us, but look at the fantastic open-space plan and bonus tentacles!”

But while the rock-hard coral formations are very tough and long-lasting, the little polyps are not, and without the polyps the entire system breaks down. Unfortunately, the polyps are rather sensitive, and due to rising ocean temperatures polyps in reefs around the world are dying, leading to coral bleaching – which is just what it sounds like – resulting in any fish or other animals that can move relocating to other reefs; and the anemones and sponges and plants and other species that can’t move, dying along with the reefs themselves.

So this leaves Clown-ey without a home. Well, except for the commercial divers that collect as many reef fish as possible to sell to pet and fish stores. It’s estimated that reef fish are 43% of all fish sold – approximately 900,000 a year – and of those about 400,000 are clownfish. Even though there are billions of fish in the sea, removing about a million a year to sell in plastic bags isn’t going to help the population. And while clownfish have been known to live up to an amazing 30 years! – twice a long as other reef fish, and six times greater than any other fish of similar size – we all know fish don’t live very long at all when removed from their natural environment and put into a tank with a fluorescent light and little water-wheel.

It’s a combination of rising ocean temperatures (linked to changing climates around the world); increasing pollution and acidification of ocean waters; and intense commercial decorative fish harvest that’s put these reef fish on emergency alert status. Within the next few weeks scientists and researchers will study fish, anemone and coral populations, take measurements and make estimates of positive and negative factors, and determine if Clown and Damsel and five other reef fish should be registered for government protection. If placed on the threatened or endangered list this doesn’t mean we can’t continue to enjoy and care for the fish in our own aquariums – it just means that by finding Nemo needs a little help, it could turn him from a no-one, into a true celebrity.


Michonne Says: The corals are like rocks where animals live? I know all about that because I live in the rocky places too. But I don’t know what a ‘poly-up’ is. If they’re the ones who make the rock I’d think I would have seen some by now, even if they are really small. Maybe I need to look harder.

Posted September 7, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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