The National Marine Fisheries Service and NOAA have announced that the Percula clownfish (Amphiprion percula) - popularised by the movie Finding Nemo - may warrant protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act because of threats from global warming and ocean acidification.
The announcement is in response to a 2012 scientific petition by the Centre for Biological Diversity seeking the Act’s protection for eight reef fish species: the orange clownfish and seven species of damselfish that occur in U.S. waters. The list includes another aquarium favourite, the Blue-green damselfish (Chromis viridis).
"Finding Nemo’s getting harder as global warming and acidifying oceans destroy the coral reefs the clownfish calls home,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Centre. "Endangered Species Act protection and meaningful action to put the brakes on greenhouse gas pollution will help make sure these beautiful fish survive in the wild and not just in the movies."
The Percula clownfish, which inhabits Coral Triangle region of the tropical Indo-Pacific, spends almost its entire life protected within anemones on coral reefs. Climate change and increasing ocean acidity, both resulting from carbon dioxide pollution, threaten the clownfish’s anemone and coral reef habitat. Warm-water-driven bleaching events reduce anemone size and numbers. Ocean warming degrades and destroys coral reef habitat by increasing the frequency and intensity of mass bleaching events, while ocean acidification slows coral growth.
Ocean acidification has also been shown to damage the smell and hearing of orange clownfish. When exposed to CO2 levels expected later this century, young clownfish become attracted to their predators and are unable to find their coral reef homes.
The species may also face threats from marine aquarium trade. The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of ornamental marine fish, and clownfish are among the most commonly traded species worldwide.
The National Marine Fisheries Service will now conduct a status review to decide whether the clownfish will be protected under the Act.
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