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Researcher aims to save Nemo's home


Brigid Veale
19 June 2008
A display on the spectacular sex life of sea anemones has been launched at the Sydney Aquarium as part of a new campaign to save the home of Nemo and his family.

As the number of anemones harvested from ocean waters continues to grow, the Sydney Aquarium Conservation Fund is supporting Southern Cross University scientist Dr Anna Scott, in her quest to develop ways to breed anemones in captivity.

The Aquarium has created a special display on Dr Scott’s research and has given a home to more than 30 of her captive bred baby leathery sea anemones in order to raise public awareness about the pressures these species are facing. The anemones are the first captive bred anemones to be displayed at Sydney Aquarium.

While there are more than 1000 types of sea anemones, only 10 are known to provide a home for anemonefish such as the popular Nemo character and his family, making them highly prized for the aquarium trade.

However the widespread removal of anemones from reefs is causing problems for both the anemones and their anemonefish, which cannot survive in the wild without their homes.

Dr Scott, who is based at the National Marine Science Centre in Coffs Harbour, has conducted the world’s first scientific research into the sexual reproductive biology of these host sea anemones. This research has discovered that anemones only reproduce on a few nights each year, following the summer and autumn full moons.

On those occasions, both males and females release sperm and eggs in the water in a spectacular display. The eggs are fertilised and this produces larvae, which then settle on the substratum where they grow into juvenile anemones.

Dr Scott is now using her findings to develop ways to breed anemones in captivity to provide an alternate source for private aquariums and potentially to restock damaged reefs.

She has focused her research on two species found in the Solitary Islands Marine Park – Entacmaea quadricolor (the bulb-tipped anemone) and Heteractis crispa (the leathery sea anemone) - which are home to about 14 species of anemonefish, including Nemo’s extended family.

Sydney Aquarium chief executive Kevin Bush said the Aquarium was committed to supporting Anna’s research and helping people realise the implications of harvesting anemones.

“After the movie ‘Finding Nemo’, the world fell in love with our beautiful little anemonefish. But it’s important to make people aware that Nemo and his family are under threat from the harvesting of anemones so we need to support the scientific community in their work to find a solution,” Mr Bush said.

Dr Scott’s research is also supported by the Hermon Slade Foundation, NSW Marine Parks Authority, Australian Geographic Society and Project AWARE Asia Pacific.

Photo: Dr Anna Scott with some of the sea anemones she has bred. High resolution photos available on request.