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For Immediate Release, September 25, 2013

Contact:  Shaye Wolf, (415) 632-5301,

Lawsuit Launched to Save Clownfish That Inspired Finding Nemo

Orange Clownfish and Seven Other Reef Fish Threatened by Climate Change,
Ocean Acidification, Aquarium Trade

SAN FRANCISCO The Center for Biological Diversity today filed notice of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service for the agency’s failure to act on a petition to protect the orange clownfish — featured in the movie Finding Nemo — and seven species of damselfish under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. These reef fish face severe threats from climate change, ocean acidification and the marine aquarium trade.

Ringed seal
Orange clownfish photo © G.R. Allen. Photos are available for media use.

“Finding Nemo is getting even more difficult — climate change and ocean acidification are destroying the coral reefs the clownfish calls home,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center. “If we want these beautiful fish to survive in the wild and not just a movie, we need to give them the safety net of the Endangered Species Act.”

On Sept. 13, 2012, the Center filed a petition with the Fisheries Service to protect the eight reef fish under the Endangered Species Act. The Service has failed to respond to the petition, despite strict legal timelines that require the agency to determine within 90 days whether to move ahead with a scientific status review, and within one year to propose a listing decision. Today the Center filed a formal 60-day notice of intent to sue the Service for its failure to make these determinations. 

All the petitioned fish are habitat specialists that rely on live corals and anemones for survival; climate change and increasing ocean acidity, both resulting from carbon dioxide pollution, threaten to destroy most coral reefs before midcentury. Ocean acidification has been shown to damage the sight, smell and hearing of clownfish and damselfish, making them disoriented and attracted to predators: Some fish were five to nine times more likely to be eaten when exposed to CO2 levels expected later this century.

The orange clownfish and several damselfish species also face the possibility of overharvesting by the marine aquarium trade. Damselfish and clownfish are by far the most commonly traded species worldwide, and studies indicate that the orange clownfish and black-axil chromis damselfish are suffering population declines in the wild due to overharvest.

“It’s tragic that our fossil fuel addiction may cause us to lose beloved animals like the clownfish that inspired Finding Nemo,” said Wolf. “Fast action to put the brakes on greenhouse gas pollution and provide Endangered Species Act protection will help make sure these beautiful fish have a future.”

Protection under the Endangered Species Act would provide habitat protections and recovery planning and minimize the impacts of federal actions that could harm these fish and their coral-reef habitat through, for instance, water pollution, dredging, commercial fishing or coastal construction. Protection under the Act could also help to spur reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from federal projects.

The reef fish in today’s petition include the orange clownfish, which inhabits the tropical Indo-Pacific and spends nearly its entire life protected within anemones on coral reefs, and seven species of damselfish that occur in U.S. waters and depend on branching corals particularly vulnerable to climate change threats.

The damselfish include: the yellowtail damselfish that inhabits waters in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean; the Hawaiian dascyllus and blue-eye damselfish, which inhabit Hawaiian waters; and the black-axil chromis, Dick’s damselfish, reticulated damselfish and blue-green damselfish that live in the Indo-Pacific, including U.S. territorial waters in American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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