By Gisela Sepulveda
With the release of Finding Dory, questions have been raised over the detrimental effect this could have on the population of creatures seen in the film, in particular the Blue Tangs, and the consequences for reef habitats. Instead of understanding the films conservation message to enjoy nature’s beautiful marine world, but keep the likes of Nemo and Dory in the ocean where they belong, a growing number of people have been coveting these striking fish species. It is estimated that over 20 million marine creatures are taken from the wild to be sold on for use in public and private aquariums.
What Are Blue Tangs?
Blue Tangs otherwise known as Regal Tangs or Palette Surgeonfish are Paracanthurus hepatus which is a species of Indo-Pacific surgeonfish. These can be found in reefs along Japan, East Africa and the Great Barrier Reef amongst others.
Unfortunately Dory and her friends seem to be too popular and too beautiful for their own good. Australian conservationists are warning that this surge in popularity may result in the Blue Tangs following the same fate as the Clownfish following on from the previous film; being abducted from their natural habitat and put into an aquarium. In 2012 over 400,000 Clownfish were taken from the wild from places such as the Philippines and imported to America. Regrettably America has one of the highest demands for these marine fish. Thus experts and conservationists are cautioning viewers not to take the ‘wrong message’ from the film.
Blue Tangs unlike Clownfish cannot be bred in captivity, commonly those that are sold in shops have been taken from the wild. Due to the difficulty in replicating breeding habits such forming harems and as they cast their eggs into the water column, it has been highly complicated for scientists to breed these in captivity. In fact around 90% of marine fish found in aquariums and pet shops are imported from the wild. The fish collection process is often harmful to the fish populations but also damaging to coral reef habitats. Marine fish harvesting techniques can be very cruel, destructive and have high mortality rates. Unfortunately, cyanide poisoning techniques are often used to collect the fish. This technique is a form of stunning or anaesthetising the fish to knock them out to and allow quicker and easier collection. The cyanide has many negative knock-on effects not only on the Blue Tang but on the surrounding coral and other marine creatures nearby, disrupting the delicate ecosystem balance of the coral reef and fish.
Once subdued the fish are then dragged in to cleaner water and revived. However, this fish harvesting technique usually has high mortality rates with observed statistics indicating up to 90% of fish may die before even being sold to an aquarium keeper. Marine fish populations are already struggling due to the effects of global warming with ocean acidification and increasing sea temperatures, not to mention pollution and over-fishing. This objectification for aesthetics and ornamental use is the cherry on top; the wildlife and reefs walk a fine line which could easily be tipped over the edge by such abuses.
How Can We Help?
Fortunately conservation work such as the Saving Nemo Conservation Fund has been set up by the University of Queensland and Flinders University since the release of the first film, helping to promote awareness, protect marine aquarium species and lead scientific research in conservation in this area. The best thing to do is not buy ‘wild-caught animals’, educate yourselves on where these fish are being sourced from and join the conservation efforts of charities such as the Saving Nemo Conservation Fund.
References and Further Reading
The Saving Nemo Conservation Fund
https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/may/19/finding-nemo-dory-pixar-could-damage-tropical-fish-population shows can you help ocean conservation after seeing Finding Dory
The Humane Society of the United States: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paracanthurus