Small fish could make big impact in marine conservation

They are cute, unique in color and appearance, and gained international notoriety after a fish named Nemo hit the silver screen.

“We basically got these guys here several months ago as part of our ornamental research program. And what’s exciting is that they finally spawned for us after being shipped here,” Research Scientist at The Oceanic Institute Chad Callan, Ph. D. said.

These colorful clownfish are now proud parents to hundreds of youngsters.

“The female will lay her eggs, usually on a rock, but in this case we have flower pot for her to lay on so we can remove them. The female lays her eggs and then the male fertilizes them and then they actually take care of them for about eight days. So they will care for them and clean them and make sure no one attacks them,” Callan said.

The larvae hatched two weeks ago at The Oceanic Institute by Marine Science students from Hawaii Pacific University. Students and researchers cultivating and raising this species of fish is not a new thing as this has become a popular method of raising clownfish for commercial sale.

“But what it could help us with is developing the techniques that could be applied to the more difficult species like the Yellow Tang,” Callan said.

Over fishing, depletion, and environmental factors impact Hawaii’s coral reefs, marine life, and ecosystem.

“By having cultured animals available as an alternative that would lessen the need to take them from the reef,” Callan said.

Marine conservation officials report anywhere from 500,0000 to 800,000 indigenous Yellow Hawaiian Tang are taken from Hawaii waters every year. This number is believed to be much higher since this only reflects reported cases.

So far, these researchers have been unsuccessful at rearing Yellow Hawaiian Tang through to adulthood. After cultivation, the fish eventually die when in the wild they can live up to three decades.

“We’ve gotten them through the first few weeks of their life and that’s really great…up until recently that wasn’t possible. We think that by having the clownfish here and exposing them to different feeds or different environmental parameters we might be able to learn different things about the more difficult to rear the Yellow Tang,” Callan said.

In the wild, the survival rate of most reef fish is typically less than one percent. So far, the success rate of these OI cultured clownfish is 100 percent. Researchers have witnessed successful aquaculture projects with local moi and mullet fish over the past couple of years.

“There’s also the possibility that there could be restoration of animals back to depleted areas. That’s really something that has never been attempted before with Yellow Tang,” Callan concluded.

The recently hatched clownfish will be used for research and some will eventually be donated to local aquariums and marine parks.

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