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Researchers Have Difficult Time 'Finding Nemo' In Great Barrier Reef

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In a latest study, researchers counted a number of sea anemones and anemonefishes to be quite low.

Two different universities have come up with two major reasons why it is now more difficult to find Nemo: climate change and sediment build-up.

Dr. Anna Scott of the Southern Cross University's (SCU) National Marine Science Centre conducted a survey in nine sites at seven reefs from Gladstone north to Townsville. In these seven reefs, four revealed a population of 59 anemones and 54anemone fishes.

According to Scott, out of the 1,000 species of sea anemones in the world, only 10 cater as a home to anemone fishes.

While Scott adds that there is actually no comparable historical data providing the count of sea anemones and anemone fishes in the Great Barrier Reef, her findings were lower than expected.

"But what we do know from this is that because we are seeing low numbers, we need to be really careful about how we manage these individuals," she stresses.

Climate Change

Changes in the earth's climate have caused higher temperatures. Scott explains that this change could affect anemone-and-algae relationship in the same way that a coral can bleach or turn white. Anemones might not be able to withstand this climactic change, and may die.

Associate Professor Steve Smith and Tom Davis, also from SCU, also concluded that due to climate change, some anemones might be moving to the south.

Sediment Build-Up

At the Australian Research Council (ARC) Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, researchers say there is a huge need to protect these habitats now being affected by sediment build-up. These sediments would have been more likely caused by floods, coastal agriculture and industry, and dredging for ports.

"The gills in sediment-exposed larval clownfish fish were congested, exhibiting twice as much mucous of what could be found in clean-water exposed fish," says PhD Student Sybille Hess, who also led the study.

Hess' co-author Dr Jodie Rummer also mentions how these fish have very high growth and metabolic rates. They require high energy when often swimming a lot. Their gills should be highly-functioning at all times.

"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," Scott stresses.

Nemo isn't lost. He could be diminishing.

Photo: Fernando de Sousa | Flickr

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