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Warning bell sounds as researcher searches for Nemo


Brigid Veale
15 June 2015
New studies on sea anemones and anemonefish have shown that ‘finding Nemo’ is much harder than anticipated in the Great Barrier Reef, and that changing climates might impact where they are found.

Two collaborative studies by Dr Anna Scott, from Southern Cross University’s National Marine Science Centre, were published in the latest issue of the scientific journal ‘Marine Biodiversity’.

In the first study, Dr Scott surveyed nine sites at seven reefs, from Gladstone north to Townsville. She found a total of 59 anemones and 54 anemonefishes at four of the seven reefs. The remaining sites did not have any anemones or anemonefishes.

Anemonefishes and their host sea anemones are highly sought after in the aquarium trade, but according to Dr Scott, there is little information available on their abundance and population dynamics.

“The marine ornamental aquarium trade is a global industry worth an estimated $US200–-$US330 million a year. Anemonefishes and their host sea anemones are often targeted and there is evidence that collecting can have detrimental effects on populations,” Dr Scott said.

“Even in some of the best managed reef areas of the world, including the Great Barrier Reef, there is a lack of quantitative information on the abundance of these species.”

Dr Scott said there was no historical baseline data relating to abundance at any of the reefs surveyed, so it was not known what the impact of collecting was having on their numbers.

“While we can’t say that collecting is having an impact, the low abundance of these species across all sites means it is essential we carefully monitor and regulate harvesting,” she said.

“At the moment we have no real safeguards to prevent localised extinctions or to ensure the reproductive processes aren’t impacted.

“In the second study, which included two other researchers from SCU, Associate Professor Steve Smith and Tom Davis, we also found that some of these anemone homes might be moving south due to changing climatic conditions.”

Dr Scott said it was vital collection was carefully regulated and monitoring was in place to determine how these species were being impacted by warming oceans to help ensure their survival for future generations to enjoy.

Photo: Anemonefishes and their host sea anemones are highly sought after in the aquarium trade.