Clownfish that inspired Finding Nemo closer to Endangered Species Act Protection

Species threatened by global warming, ocean acidification, aquarium trade


Photo by Center for Biological Diversity

SAN FRANCISCO— The National Marine Fisheries Service announced today that the orange clownfish — a species popularized for a generation of children 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 Service will now conduct a status review to decide whether the clownfish will be protected under the Act.

Today’s decision responds to a 2012 scientific petition by the Center 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.

“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 Center. “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.”

Protection for orange clownfish under the Endangered Species Act would minimize the impacts of federal actions that could harm these fish and their coral reef habitat. It could also help spur reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from federal projects.

The orange clownfish, which inhabits Coral Triangle region of the tropical Indo-Pacific, spends nearly 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 orange clownfish may also face threats from the global marine aquarium trade. The United States is the world’s largest importer of ornamental marine fish, and clownfish are among the most commonly traded species worldwide. Studies suggest that clownfish and other anemonefish are suffering population declines in the wild because of overharvesting for the aquarium trade.

The Service has not yet reached a decision on one of the damselfish — the yellowtail damselfish that inhabits waters in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean — but today denied six other damselfish a status review under the Endangered Species Act.

Last week the government issued landmark Endangered Species Act protections to 20 coral species in Florida, the Caribbean and the Pacific because of threats from global warming and ocean acidification, in response to a Center petition. In 2006 the Center successfully protected two Caribbean coral species — elkhorn and staghorn corals — under the Endangered Species Act.

Contact Shaye Wolf, (415) 632-5301,

Center for Biological Diversity, 2 September 2014. Press release.

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