To protect coral reefs, keep Dory swimming [video]

She’s bouncy, chatty, forgetful and coming back to movie screens starting June 16. The adorable blue fish who helped find Nemo in the 2003 film is starring in her own Disney-Pixar movie, Finding Dory.

But fame could prove complicated for Dory and her fellow species, the regal blue tang. If fans seek out these colorful fish as pets, they could devastate a species vital to coral reefs.

The fish has a very important job grazing on algae that can crowd out corals, said ecologist Culum Brown. “It prevents the corals from being overgrown,” he said.

When Dory appeared opposite two clownfish in Finding Nemo, demand for clownfish caused a frenzy of reef collection for tropical aquariums. The fish disappeared from parts of its traditional habitat. Some children who were first-time aquarium keepers decided to send their little Nemos on adventures through the plumbing system.

Reef collection could be a bigger issue for blue tang, said Carmen da Silva of the Saving Nemo project in Australia. She said that, unlike clownfish, fish like Dory can’t be sustainably bred in captivity.

Reef fish populations are already struggling due to warmer sea temperatures and ocean acidification caused by global warming,” she said.

“The last thing they need is to be plucked off reefs.”

Wishes for fishes

If animated ocean adventures spark your love of underwater creatures, there are other ways to connect with the ocean:

  • Recycle to prevent plastic from going into the ocean.
  • Join in beach cleanups to help keep fish habitats pristine.
  • Consider a freshwater aquarium, if you decide to keep fish. Tropical fish are often illegally harvested from coral reefs and are tough to keep as pets.