Saving Nemo?

Scientists are working to protect the clown fish

Sep 21, 2012 | By Stephanie Kraus
JOE KLAMAR—AFP/GETTY IMAGES

In the movie Finding Nemo, the orange clown fish was saved. Now environmentalists say the species needs saving in real life too. On Sept. 13, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition that it hopes will prevent clown fish and seven other coral reef-dwelling species from becoming endangered.

There is no evidence that clown fish numbers are dropping. So why are scientists concerned? Shaye Wolf is an animal scientist for the Center for Biological Diversity. She says the coral reefs, where clown fish live, are becoming unhealthy. “We’re asking for protection of the clown fish because it’s in trouble from climate change,” Wolf told TFK.

Life In the Reefs

Clown fish protect themselves from predators by living in the tentacles of sea anemones that grow on coral reefs.
SAM YEH—AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Clown fish protect themselves from predators by living in the tentacles of sea anemones that grow on coral reefs.

Clown fish protect themselves from predators by living in sea anemones that grow on coral reefs. Scientists have warned that coral reefs are likely to become the world’s first ecosystem to disappear because of global warming. The reefs are at risk from increased levels of acid in the ocean, which comes from pollution from humans. The pollution damages a clown fish’s sense of hearing, sight and smell. With damaged senses, young clown fish have trouble finding coral reefs to make their homes. Sometimes the fish can become so confused that they are drawn to predators’ smells by mistake. “The longer we wait, the harder it’s going to be to save these unique creatures,” Wolf says.

A Plan To Help

Clown fish face other threats too. They are among the world’s most commonly traded fish species. Wolf says protecting the fish—and the coral reefs where they live—under the Endangered Species Act will help. 

“We need to protect Nemo and all the other fishes that we care about,” Wolf says.  “As the reefs go, so do the fish that depend on them.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service will decide this December whether these fish will be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Until then, as Dory from Finding Nemo says, “just keep swimming.”