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We’ve found Nemo, now let’s save him!

This is the second installment in Cassie’s blog series highlighting threats to Clownfish. Cassie explains the pressures of wild harvest and why it is so important to keep wild fish free!

We all grew up watching Finding Nemo, and for many of us it sparked the sense of wonder and awe for the marine world that we still carry with us now. While this movie was pivotal for inspiring future marine biologists everywhere, it also had an unexpected and damaging impact on the one species it aimed to protect; clownfish.


The popularity of this charismatic reef fish skyrocketed after the 2003 release of this film. More and more people wanted to see and interact with clownfish, however not necessarily in their natural habitats. Everyone wanted a pet Nemo! Clownfish, as highlighted in Finding Nemo are a very popular aquarium species; but have you ever paused to think where these fish actually come from?

An alarming 90% of all aquarium fish have been wild harvested, resulting in around one million fish being removed from reefs globally each year. In order to meet the increasing demand for popular aquarium species, more and more fish are being harvested each year; causing local population declines of up to 75% in some regions. Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand are popular locations for the harvesting of clownfish but these practices also occur in Australia, the Maldives and Hawaii.

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While we do hope one-day clownfish won’t be kept as pets anymore and will be able to live free, a more sustainable alternative is desperately needed right now. Luckily for clownfish they are easily bred in captivity. Instead of harvesting the fish they can be bred in aquaria and subsequently sold into the aquarium trade creating a sustainable way to keep clownfish as pets.

There are a range of benefits to the aquarium trade from adopting a captive breeding strategy:

  1. Captive bred fish live for longer in consumer tanks than wild harvested fish; due to the stressful transition from ocean to tank.
  2. Cyanide (used to slow the fish for capture) is not needed as fish are no longer harvested, reducing the ecosystem wide impact the trade has.
  3. Juveniles from captive breeding programs can also be released back onto reef ecosystems, restoring population numbers.Harvest 3

Here at the Atoll Marine Centre we have established a captive clownfish breeding program in an attempt to supplement the trade with a sustainable option. Through both education and breeding we hope to make positive changes to the aquarium trade and reduce its impact on these essential reef species. Our program houses both the Clark’s and Maldivian clownfish; the later which is endemic to this region and thus important to protect. We conduct daily tours with guests from local resorts informing them about the benefits of captive breeding and the impacts of both climate change and the aquarium trade on clownfish. Further, we educate local students using Finding Nemo; teaching them about symbiotic relationships, climate change and why we should keep wild fish free!

So if you are interested in having your very own Nemo at home make sure it has come from a sustainable breeding program and not from the sea!

Keep an eye out for more blogs on clownfish coming soon!

By Cassie Hoepner

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