Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Finding Nemo: monitoring the McCullochs Anemonefish

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UQ researcher at Lord Howe Island
JP Hobbs from the University of Queensland. Photo: NSW Department of Primary Industries

The McCullochs anemonefish (Amphiprion mccullochi) is an endemic species which only occurs in waters around Lord Howe Island, Elizabeth Reef and Middleton Reef. The Lord Howe Island lagoon supports the world’s largest population – approximately 75% of all McCullochs anemonefish – and is therefore a critical area for monitoring this species.

In 2009 a program was established, led by marine scientist JP Hobbs from the University of Queensland and undertaken by local marine tour operators, Lord Howe Island Central School Students, as well as Lord Howe Island Marine Park staff.

Like other anemonefish, the McCullochs anemonefish has a symbiotic relationship with host anemones and cannot survive without one. This is a classic example of two organisms benefitting the other: the anemone provides the fish with protection and shelter, while the fish provides the anemone nutrients in the form of waste while also scaring off potential predator fish.

Monitoring for this species involves counting both anemonefish and host anemones on a particular patch of reef. The most recent surveys, undertaken in April this year across 41 reef patches, show a decline in numbers of both anemonefish and host anemones since 2011. This decline may be linked to anemone bleaching (similar to coral bleaching) in response to stressors such as climate change.

McCullochs Anemone fish in Lord Howe Island lagoon
McCullochs anemonefish in Lord Howe Island lagoon. Photo: NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Lord Howe Island Marine park staff will continue to work closely with researchers to monitor this trend, identify potential causes, and take another step further to identify actions to safeguard this species.

Thanks to Ian Hutton and Dave Gardiner with their assistance in locating survey sites, and to everyone who has been involved in the monitoring program including the LHI Board, Howea Divers, Islander Cruises, ProDive LHI, LHI Environmental Tours, Marine Adventures and LHI Central School students and staff.

For further information or to report unusual sightings of McCullochs anemonefish feel free to contact Lord Howe Island Marine Park Staff.

The Lord Howe Island Signal 31 May 2021

This article appeared in The Lord Howe Island Signal, 31 May 2021.

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