Demand to have clownfish in the aquariums of homes, zoos, and even — gasp — dental offices has skyrocketed since the release of Disney/Pixar's Finding Nemo in 2003. Unfortunately, this has been incredibly harmful to wild clownfish populations as many of them have been taken from their habitat in the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists fear that the release of the film's sequel, Finding Dory, could bring further harm.
To address the loss of these fish after the release of the movie, the Saving Nemo Fund was established in South Australia in 2005. The group reports that over 1 million clownfish are taken from their home at the reef every year in order to be sold in aquariums. This has reduced the wild population by 75%, which has implications that go far beyond the clownfish themselves.
Reefs are dynamic ecosystems that require a number of components to be in place. Clownfish live in symbiosis with sea anemones, which are sessile animals with tentacles that deal poisonous stings. Clownfish are immune to these stings, which allows them to use the anemone as their home and gain protection from predators. In return, clownfish are responsible for keeping anemones clean and healthy. If the fish were to disappear, anemones might not be able to survive. The consequences of that could ripple throughout the reef, causing tremendous devastation.
The fact that so many clownfish are being taken from the ocean for aquariums so people can celebrate a movie about a fish who would rather be in the ocean than an aquarium is ironic, but the fact that it is happening on such a large scale that it is threatening the species is a paradox too cruel to allow it to continue.
The good news is that there are ways to have a clownfish in an aquarium without devastating wild populations. It's as simple as getting the fish from a reputable source that breeds the fish in captivity. Not only is this better for the future of the species, but captive-bred fish generally thrive better in aquariums as well.
To help draw attention to this important cause, the Saving Nemo Fund has started the #fishkiss4nemo campaign. They're hoping 1 million people will post pictures of themselves making "fishy faces" to raise awareness. Ultimately, it is the goal to reach Ellen DeGeneres, the star of Finding Dory, who can remind her audience that "fish are friends" and to end this harmful practice.
While clownfish have been heavily affected since the release of the first movie, the sequel could cause a spike in demand for blue tangs (the type of fish Dory is) as well.
Here are some people puckering up to save Nemo:
Check out the Saving Nemo Fund for more information on how to protect clownfish.