10 th Anniversary of The Clownfish Release Project In Thailand
This year The Clownfish Release is on Saturday 22nd March 2014 and Scubafish are delighted to be supporting ‘The Clownfish Release Project 2014,’ organised by Pimalai Resort and Spa.
The event will be held at the beautiful islands of Ko Haa. It will be slightly different this year, as the Clownfish are going to be released at Ko Haa Lagoon and unlike previous years, they will be released into shallower waters. They will be released at a depth of 5 metres to allow participants who are non-divers to view all of the action.
The Clownfish Release Project is generously funded by Khun Anurat Tiyaphorn, the owner of Pimalai Resort and Spa. The research is headed by Dr. Thorn Thamrongnawasawat, Head of the Department of Marine Sciences at Kasetsart University and his team of marine scientists, and is supported by the Thai Department of Fisheries.
In the days before the Clownfish release date, Dr. Thorn Thamrongnawasawat, his team of scientists and Scubafish staff, will spend time preparing and placing temporary refuge and protection cages around suitable anemones at varying depths, at our local dive site, Ko Haa, ready for the release of the 200 Western Clownfish.
Last year’s project was a great success, with more than 65 divers and snorkellers volunteering to assist in the project of releasing 200 Clownfish. The atmosphere was one of excitement and eagerness to help find new homes for each and every one of the tiny fish, at one of the dive sites at Ko Haa. Adults and children were involved, with everyone wanting to participate and be part of the action. It was a rewarding and fun event for all and it was truly a joy to see so many happy faces, amongst children and adults alike.
The Clownfish Release Project, which started back in 2002, has two main aims; to research and improve techniques for reintroducing marine life bred in nurseries, back into ocean environments. Also, to raise awareness of marine conservation, education and preservation, specifically related to the poaching of Clownfish for commercial sale.
The scientists involved in past projects, assumed that the fish would have a natural instinct to find a safe haven in the ocean, but this was not the case. Many larger fish enjoyed a free snack! The next approach was to provide a temporary refuge for the Clownfish as they were being released. The Clownfish were introduced to their new home, in a temporary wire-net basket, sized so that the Clownfish could swim in and out, whilst preventing predators from gaining entry. The baskets were placed near to anemones so that the Clownfish could also shelter within the anemones’ tendrils. Clownfish and sea anemones provide a great number of benefits for one another; anemones protect Clownfish from predators, as well as providing food through the scraps left from the anemones’ meals. In return, Clownfish protect anemones by dining on invasive parasites that could harm the anemones. Clownfish are a small species of fish that are found around tropical coral reefs.
The most commonly known species has orange with white markings, however Clownfish can be many different colours and also differ in shape. In the wild, they live for six-eight years, and they only grow up to three to five inches! There are 28 recognised species of Clownfish, seven of which can be found in Thailand. They can also be found as far north as the Red Sea and some inhabit the Great Barrier Reef, on the Australian east coast. Due to their size, Clownfish are preyed upon by a number of predators, but can be difficult to catch, as they often retreat to the safety of a sea anemone. Sharks and eels, are the main predators of the Clownfish, but humans are the biggest threat to their numbers, as they like to catch them and keep them in tanks and aquariums. Clownfish rose to international fame and stardom in the popular animated movie ‘Finding Nemo’. Pet shops, aquariums and clownfish breeders reported significant increases in sales and demand.
It is indeed a sad irony, observed Dr. Thorn Thamrongnawasawat, that the success of a film, which tried to spread the message that Clownfish should be left in peace, has actually stimulated a demand for them as pets, to the point where the very survival of the species is now at risk. Over the last few years, Dr. Thorn has seen a great improvement in repopulating Ko Haa with Clownfish. He believes that with further Release projects, research and monitoring, he and his team of scientists can continue to repopulate tropical coral reefs with marine species that may be in decline.
“We have obtained partial success in reintroducing Clownfish into the waters around Ko Haa but we will need to further monitor the population of these fish and their survival rate before we can say – We won, job done!” – Dr. Thorn Thamrongnawasawat
Khun Anurat’s daughter, who is also a keen marine conservationist, felt compelled to take part in the Clownfish Release Project from the beginning:
“We started our Nemo project not knowing how difficult it was to return something back to nature whose existence we had always taken for granted. The World’s famous ‘Finding Nemo’ movie led to the rapid increase in demand to catch clownfish and sell them as pet fish. Clownfish are not funny and neither is the fact that, all the clownfish in the Ko Haa area, were caught and sold to fish markets as cheaply as 10 Baht each!” – Khun Anurat’s daughter
Khun Anurat’s daughter was heartbroken to learn that all the ‘Nemos’ were cruelly caught and sold. She believed that something should be done to protect the numbers of Clownfish in the Ko Haa area. She wanted to demonstrate to the world that she was on the side of Mother Nature and educate people on what is involved in successfully returning Clownfish to their natural habit.