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29, Mar, 2012

Clownfish (and Seahorse) Release Project 2012

Posted in Diving News, Eco News, Events, Latest News, Local Community Projects, Marine Life, Press Releases, Reef Today by saffron

Scubafish are delighted to be supporting Pimalai’s 8th Clownfish Release Project event on 2nd April 2012 at Ko Haa. This year, Dr. Thon Thamrongnawasawat and his team of marine scientists, plan to release 200 Western Clownfish and are extending their project to include 50 Seahorses to release at Island #1 and #6 at popular local dive site, Ko Haa.

Anurat Tiyaphorn, owner of Pimalai Resort & Spa proudly announced:

“After 7 years of experiment and numerous learning experiences we are proud that by 2010 we had successfully helped to restock the waters around Koh Haa with a sustainable population of little orange ‘Nemos’ (aka clownfish).

We are now ready for the next big step. This year Dr. Thorn and his team, together with volunteer divers and representatives of Pimalai Resort & Spa and Scubafish Dive Centre, will release juvenile yellow seahorses to join their clownfish cousins around the divesites at Ko Haa.”

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, and to raise awareness about marine conservation, education and preservation, specifically relating to poaching for aquarium sales.

Juvenile Clownfish being filmed before release at Ko Haa dive site

The clownfish is a small species of fish that is found around tropical coral reefs. The most commonly known species of clownfish is orange with white markings but clownfish can be found in many different colours and can also differ in shape. In the wild, clownfish are said to live for six-eight years, and they grow up to only three to five inches!

There are 28 recognised species of clownfish, seven of which can be found in Thailand. The clownfish is also found as far north as the Red Sea and inhabits the Great Barrier Reef, on the Australian east coast.

Clownfish (and Seahorse) Release Project 2012 - Clownfish at Ko Haa

Due to their small size, clown fish are preyed upon by a number of predators but can be difficult to catch and they often retreat into the safety of the sea anemone. Large species of fish, sharks and eels are the main predators of the clown fish in the water but the human is the biggest overall threat to the clown fish as they are caught to keep in tanks and aquariums.

The clownfish rose to international fame and stardom in the popular animated movie ‘Finding Nemo’. Fish shops, aquariums and clownfish breeders reported significant increases in clownfish sales and demand.

Juvenile western clownfish being transported for release at Ko Haa

It is indeed a sad irony, observed Dr. Thon Thamrongnawasawat, head of the Department of Marine Sciences at Kasetsart University, that the success of a movie which tried to spread the message that clownfish should be left in peace has actually stimulated demand for them as pets, to the point where the very survival of the species is now at risk.

Khun Anurat’s daughter, who is also a keen marine conservationist, felt compelled to take part in the Clownfish Release Project right from the start:

“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!”

Seahorse Release Project VolunteerKhun Anurat’s daughter was heartbroken to learn that all the Nemos were cruelly caught and sold and felt that, not only should something be done to increase the numbers of clownfish in the Ko Haa area, but that by demonstrating to the world that she was on the side of Mother Nature, she could also help to educate people to know that it requires a lot of sweat, time, patience, education and resources to successfully return fish (and seahorses) to their traditional homes.

The first few years of the Clownfish Release Project saw Dr. Thorn’s team introduce several thousand clownfish into the reefs around Ko Haa.

The team 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 while they were 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 of, but that prevented predators from gaining entry. The baskets were placed near to anemones so that the clownfish could also shelter within the anemone tendrils.



Setting the protective Clownfish CagesClownfish 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.

Dr Thorn has seen a marked improvement in the success of repopulating Ko Haa with clownfish over the last few years and believes that with further research and monitoring, he and his team 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 Hoh 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’.”

Globally, seahorse populations are thought to have been endangered in recent years by overfishing and habitat destruction. Seahorses are the main ingredients in traditional Chinese herbology, and as many as 20 million seahorses are caught each year and sold for this purpose.

Young seahorse awaiting release at Ko Haa

Again, in cooperation with Dr. Thorn and the Department of Fisheries, Pimalai and Scubafish are pleased to participate in an attempt to protect and enhance the seahorse population near Ko Haa.

The release is scheduled to be on Monday 2 April 2012. For divers who are interested in volunteering to help in the release, please contact The boats will leave from Pimalai Resort & Spa jetty at 08:00am. Limited space is available!!



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