Earlier this month, Pixar announced that their Academy Award-Winning film, Finding Nemo, will soon come to theaters in 3D. Pixar is excited about the film's transition to 3D, saying that the ocean scenes are perfect for the new medium.
Hopefully the 3D experience will be enough to satiate the little movie-goers' appetite for adorable fishy friends. Unfortunately, if the past is any indication, we could be in for another Nemo frenzy, which does not bode well for the fish.
When Finding Nemo was first released in 2003, clownfish sales soared. Clownfish were already popular, but the movie caused even more kids to want their very own Nemo. According to one study, the clownfish populations of some reefs dropped by 75% in the five years following the movie's release. About half of the fish sold in stores are taken from reefs, and the other half are farmed in captivity. The fad has also affected the reef itself because collectors sometimes use chemicals to knock out the fish, causing lasting damage to tropical ecosystems.
Some customers don't seem to realize that tropical fish like Nemo can't live in a simple bowl like a goldfish. Other owners take the movie to heart and try to set their fish free. As a result, tropical fish are popping up in the wrong oceans and terrorizing the native species that live there.
The clownfish problem is just one example of the threats that marine animals face. One study thoroughly researches the existing conservation efforts for over a thousand "charismatic" species from sixteen families that are seen in Finding Nemo. Included in the study were species of sea turtles, pelicans, sharks, and, of course, clownfish. The results showed that one in every six of the species is threatened, and the principle threat is exploitation.
It may come as no surprise that several other animals have suffered after they were featured in children's movies. When Disney's 101 Dalmatians came out in 1996, many people went out purchased their own black and white bundles of joy. A little while later when the puppies grew up into adult Dalmatians with tons of energy, animal shelters across the country saw a 300 percent increase in their Dalmatian populations.
Similarly, there are many more people are buying owls nowadays, and it's just possible that the Harry Potter franchise may have had something to do with it. Unfortunately, when the magic wears off and it becomes clear that owls take a long time to train, many owl owners no longer want their feathered pets. In fact, a new owl sanctuary has opened in England for the sole purpose of absorbing the influx of unwanted owls.
It seems strange that Finding Nemo has had such a catastrophic affect on clownfish populations when the story is about freeing a fish that was captured from a reef. One article suggests that conservationists should better utilize animated features like Finding Nemo to educate the public about biodiversity and conservation.
Until then, I would like encourage all the little clownfish out there to "just keep swimming."