Millions of people enjoyed “Finding Nemo,” the animated Disney film that premiered in 2003, and can still recall the plot: A timid clownfish embarks on an adventurous search for his son, Nemo, who was captured by scuba divers and taken to Australia’s Sydney Harbor. But what many may not be aware of is that the real-life Nemos of the world, along with other small fish that are equally dependent on healthy reef systems, are in serious trouble because of climate change.

The Center for Biological Diversity on Monday filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service to place orange clownfish–more commonly known to children as Nemo fish–and seven other reef fish species under protection of the Endangered Species Act.

“We risk losing the striking fish that inspired ‘Finding Nemo’ forever if we don’t put the brakes on global warming and ocean acidification,” Shaye Wolf, the Center’s climate science director, stated in a news release. “Carbon pollution harms these fish and destroys their coral reef homes. If we want these beautiful animals to survive in the wild, not just in a movie, we have to protect them under the Endangered Species Act.”

In “Finding Nemo,” the over-protective father (Marlin) learned during his adventure to take risks and to be more trusting of his son.

There were many risks and struggles along the way.

So it is with orange clownfish trying to survive with coral reefs around the world–including the Great Barrier Reef, which was Nemo’s home–in a state of decline, and while ocean acidification is on the rise.

Warming seas and acidification, caused by the oceans’ absorption of carbon-dioxide poisoning, pose a threat to reefs and to clownfish and damselfish.

“Coral reefs are the rainforests of the ocean, but carbon pollution will bulldoze their biodiversity,” Wolf said. “The longer we wait to provide Endangered Species Act protection and reduce the greenhouse gases harming reef fish and destroying their homes, the harder it’s going to be to save these unique creatures.”

Another danger, as Nemo came to know, is the aquarium trade. Orange clownfish and several species of damselfish are immensely popular aquarium pets, and the United States is the largest importer of ornamental marine fish.

Listed on the petition sent to NMFS include the orange clownfish, which spends nearly its entire life protected within anemones on coral reefs, and seven species of damselfish that occur in U.S. waters, and are dependent on corals vulnerable to climate change threats.

They are the yellowtail damselfish that inhabit 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.”

NMFS will consider the petition but it will require lots of time before any action is taken.

— Images are courtesy of the Center for Biological Diversity

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