A social media campaign is gaining international traction as Flinders University leads the fight to save clownfish and other wild tropical fish from household aquariums.
The #fishkiss4Nemo campaign and other initiatives, including a future Saving Nemo Conservation Fund, aim to provide education, awareness and more sustainable captive breeding programs to protect popular marine ornamental species that are often captured on reefs for sale in pet shops.
A catalyst for the campaign is the June 2016 opening of Finding Dory, the sequel to the 2003 Pixar-Disney film Saving Nemo, with the person behind the voice of the blue tang fish ‘Dory’ (Ellen DeGeneres) a target of the Million Kisses campaign.
Since the original film’s release, the popularity of Nemo (clownfish) in household aquariums has seen clownfish populations on coral reefs decline; even making them locally extinct in some areas of Asia.
Saving Nemo campaign co-founders, Flinders marine biologists Associate Professor Karen Burke da Silva and Anita Nedosyko, have teamed with researchers at the University of Queensland to ensure clownfish can be found exactly where they should be – in his sea anemone home on coral reefs.
The marine fish aquarium trade is a major cause of coral reef fish decline, says Ms Nedosyko, from the School of Biological Sciences at Flinders.
‘What most people don’t realise is that about 95 per cent of marine fish found in aquarium shops come from the wild,’ she says.
‘Right now with the Great Barrier Reef is recovering from one of the worst bleaching events this summer, they don’t need the added pressure of being plucked off the reef.’
Exports of marine ornamentals have grown into a major global enterprise, and high profile exposure of coral reef species through movies such as Finding Nemo has influenced a new generation of aquarium hobbyists, says Associate Professor Burke da Silva.
‘Instead of understanding the film’s conservation message of keeping Nemo in the ocean where he belongs with his friends and family, people fell in love with the adorable characters and wanted to keep them as pets,’ she says.
Flinders researchers have been captive breeding various clownfish species for seven years at the main Bedford Park campus. These animals have been sold through pet shops and to other breeding centres to promote the usefulness of captive breeding in preserving coral reef ecosystems.
Associate Professor Burke da Silva says clownfish make fascinating and charismatic pets but customers should buy sustainable nursery bred rather than wild caught fish.
‘On the other hand, blue tangs are not yet able to be bred in captivity so they are all taken from the wild,’ Ms Nedosyko.
‘Until they do we are urging people to reconsider them as pets.
‘In the meantime, we urge the Flinders community to also get behind the campaign and take pictures of their own fish kisses, hashtagging them with #fishkiss4Nemo and uploading on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter,’ she says.
The selfie photo campaign aims to gather one million fish kisses on social media with the hashtag #fishkiss4nemo, even hoping to capture the attention of TV chat show host Ellen DeGeneres to gain support for the coral reef conservation program.