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Updated: Friday, 14 Sep 2012, 6:53 PM CDT
Published : Friday, 14 Sep 2012, 6:34 PM CDT
AUSTIN (KXAN) - The orange percula clown fish, the inspiration for the popular “Finding Nemo” movies, may be in trouble. And it may be in even more trouble than ever following the release today of “ Finding Nemo 3D.”
At Rivers and Reefs Pet Center in South Austin, Brent Donnell recalls working at a Fort Worth pet store when the original film appeared in 2003.
“There was a movie theater almost right next door,” Donnell said, “and they'd stop and [say], 'I want to see the Nemo fish; I want to see the Nemo fish.'
“And so we ended up selling a lot of salt-water, especially reef, aquariums so that you could have a percula clown and an anemone together.”
It was all fun and games at first, but it wasn’t long before trouble hit.
“Most people ended up bringing fish back,” Donnell said, “and deciding they didn't want to do aquariums anymore.
“Salt-water aquariums are particularly hard to do, especially when doing a reef tank with an anemone and a percula clown. They take a little time and effort to get started and a little money.
In the ocean, the clown fish and the anemone live together in a symbiotic relationship, but replicating that environment in an aquarium can be tricky.
“The salinity levels have to be kept just right,” Donnell said, “as well as trace elements have to be kept where the anemone can survive and any corals you might have.
“You have to reach that perfect medium where the tank takes care of itself and it cycles correctly and ammonia is broken down into nitrite, which is broken down into nitrate. It takes about six to eight weeks to really get a good, good tank going and a good year before a tank is a completely established ecosystem that, you know, will survive on its own.”
The trouble is: When it comes to saltwater aquariums, patience can sometimes run thin.
“Occasionally,” said Donnell, “you'll have someone who will set up a saltwater tank, say a 25-gallon saltwater tank. They want to do a reef tank and they realize after a month that it's going to take a lot of work. And it's probably something you have to pay attention to for probably a good 30 minutes every day, make sure your levels are correct and that, you know, there's nothing going wrong with your aquarium.
“It sounds like a great idea to begin with and then sometimes it's just a little too much work.”
The bigger problem
That’s when customers show up back at the pet store looking to return the whole thing. Often though, they never get the chance; their clown fishes simply die.
“If you attempt to establish a tank too quickly, especially in saltwater, you're going to have problems with losing fish,” Donnell said.
“Occasionally, with some stores, and I'm not sure of any here locally at all, but there are bigger stores that will just go ahead and sell (the fish) and then you've got fish dying and people lose interest and [say], 'Oh, this is too hard.
“So there's a downside to everything -- but I'm looking forward to having more people come in and talk about saltwater and look at all the beautiful saltwater fish that we have.”
The money problem
Beautiful enough, by the way, to command a beautiful price.
“To set up an aquarium that (a clown fish) can be happy in, I would say upwards of probably $350 to $400, depending on the size, on the smaller aquarium,” said Donnell. “And of course, bigger aquariums are always more stable and an easier way to go. So you could easily spend, you know, $800 to $900 setting up an aquarium just to put a percula clown in.”
But whether customers wind up buying or not, Donnell looks at their visits as an opportunity to do some teaching.
“What I liked about when Nemo came out originally,” he said, “was that it allowed a chance to educate people much more. And they were very happy to learn and we got a lot of great new customers because of it.
“You talk to them about how to establish a reef tank, how an anemone interacts with a percula clown and what you need to watch. For some people, it's a turnoff, but some people become hobbyists for the rest of their life.
“It's really good to get kids into it early on, too, because it's a really great hobby. You learn a lot about all sorts of ecosystems and how the ocean works.
“So the movies definitely help perpetuate an interest in marine biology and, you know, how it affects our world.”
Meanwhile, conservationists look at all this with alarm.
Only a day before the release of “Finding Nemo 3D," the Center for Biodiversity in San Francisco formally asked the National Marine Fisheries Service to include the orange clown fish on the Endangered Species List.
The center said clown fish numbers are threatened by climate change, ocean acidification and the marine aquarium trade.
“The United States is the world’s largest importer of ornamental marine fish,” said the center in a news release, “and damselfish and anemonefish (clown fish) are by far the most commonly traded species. Studies indicate that the orange clownfish and black-axil chromis damselfish are suffering population declines in the wild because of overharvesting for the aquarium trade.”
Donnell was not only not surprised to hear that, he welcomed the effort.
“I personally think that's a fantastic way to go,” he said. “Fishing for fish out of the ocean, wild caught, is probably not the best way, especially now when we do have the technology and we do have the knowledge to breed them in aquariums and provide the hobbyists with everything they need without fishing in the ocean.
“All of our fish are bred in captivity and they're not wild caught. Wild-caught fish tend to not do as well when you pull them out of an ocean and put them into an aquarium. So I do know that all of our fish are bred in aquariums and are bought for aquariums.”
So, by all means, enjoy the movie and don’t hesitate to take the kids to a pet store afterward for some continuing education.
And, if you’ve got the money and the patience, there’s an aquarium-bred Nemo out there that might fit quite nicely in your own 3D world.
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