A team of Australian, American and French coral reef scientists has achieved a world breakthrough in tracking fish that could revolutionise the sustainable management of coral reefs and help restore threatened fisheries.
In the process, they have established that Nemo the lovable orange, black and white clownfish of movie fame really does come home, with around 60 per cent completing the astonishing journey back to their tiny home reef after being swept into the open ocean as babies.
Working on pristine coral reefs in a marine protected area in Papua New Guinea, an international team - led by Dr Geoff Jones and Dr Glenn Almany of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University - has pioneered a new way to study fish populations by 'tagging' adult fish with a minute trace of a harmless isotope, which they then pass on to their offspring.
The team's findings were announced in the international journal Science today, and contain three scientific world-firsts:
The tag is enabling the researchers to understand the extent to which young fish return to their 'home' area or go off to interbreed with more distant populations.
This helps to build a picture of the extent to which fish populations are connected or isolated from one another currently a vital missing link in the sustainable management of fish stocks.
"If we can understand how fish larvae disperse, it will enable better design of marine protected areas and this will help in the rebuilding of threatened fish populations," Dr Almany explains.