When "Finding Dory," the follow-up to Disney's smash hit, "Finding Nemo," hits theaters in June, Australian researchers are worried the film will have a negative impact on wild fish populations in coral reefs. When the first movie came out more than a decade ago, people wanted to have their own Nemo, so they rushed to pet stores, looking to bring home a clownfish.
Researchers from the University of Queensland and Flinders University say wild clownfish populations have been declining since the release of the film. Some populations have dropped by as much as 75 percent on frequently harvested reefs, they say. The researchers now worry the new film will have a similar impact on clownfish, regal blue tangs like Dory and other ornamental marine species.
"What most people don’t realize is that about 90 percent of marine fish found in aquarium shops come from the wild,” Carmen da Silva, Queesland project coordinator for the Saving Nemo Conservation Fund, said in a statement. Researchers created the fund to educate people in hopes of stopping them from taking ornamental marine species from the wild.
“Reef fish populations are already struggling due to warmer sea temperatures and ocean acidification caused by global warming," said da Silva. "The last thing they need is to be plucked off reefs.”
The conservation group is hoping to get the attention of talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who provides the voice for Dory in both movies. They've kicked off an ambitious social media campaign asking people to share fish-face selfies with the hashtag #fishkiss4nemo in hopes of gathering a million photos and DeGeneres' support.
Fund co-founder and director Anita Nedosyko was working in an aquarium store when the first movie was released and said she was shocked to see the increase in the number of people who wanted to buy a pet clownfish when the movie came out.
"People fell in love with the adorable characters and wanted to keep them as pets, instead of understanding the film's conservation message of keeping Nemo in the ocean where he belongs," she said.
The researchers are running a captive clownfish breeding program, selling the sustainable fish to aquarium stores so far only in Brisbane and Adelaide, but they say they hope to eventually branch out to other areas.
The researchers say captive-bred fish are healthier and happier in tanks than wild-caught fish.