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The Fight for Survival and the Search for Dory and Nemo

Pixar Animation Studios recently announced its decision to make the sequel to Finding Nemo, the 2004 Oscar winning film for Best Animated Feature. However, this time the film will tell the story of the search for Nemo’s beloved friend Dory (a Paracanthurus hepatus fish species) at the center of the quest.

Why don’t we not look for Dory?
Since the start of the film saga, an entire generation has drastically changed its view of the oceans and seas. Demand has surged for ornamental fish species, exacting a high cost not just on these species but on their entire ecosystem.

So what does this mean for the fish species depicted in the famous Pixar saga? Every year, millions of fish from the Amphiprion percula species feed the apparently inexhaustible dreams of young children to release their own clownfish and recreate the famous scene from the film when Marlin and Nemo are finally reunited.

The popularity of the lovable Dory, star of the new tale, will lead to millions of its fish species being transported by sea, land, and air, causing the disruption of their fragile ecological process, of which the new film stars are a part of.

Making use of the sea has been an ancestral means of livelihood, but in the case of the Dominican Republic there is a perception that the ecological impact of fishing for the purposes of the food market is greater than that of the ornamental fish trade.

Actually, it’s not. Given that neither trade is properly regulated or supervised, the consequences of both could prove irreversible.

According to an analysis from the Center for Biological Diversity in the United States, some 6 million tropical fish are imported every year for the benefit of the ornamental fish market: “As with Finding NemoFinding Dory has sparked compulsive purchases of tropical fish that threaten certain populations in their natural hábitat. They are being extracted to confine them to a completely foreign environment from their reality and to stimulate the false belief that they’re helping to preserve the species, when in fact they are being destroyed.”

The Dominican Republic certainly hasn’t missed out on its share of such a profitable business. According to data from the CEI-RD, in 2014 a total of 29,751kg of living ornamental fish were exported to Europe, Canada, and United States.

These figures, together with the current lack of appropriate regulations and controls, should offer a wake-up call to government and civil society that it’s not for lack of initiative but rather a lack of will that more action is not being taken.

Consider this: Dory and her Caribbean equivalent (the Acanthuridae fish species) weigh on average 0.6kg each. How many fish of that weight need to be extracted to reach such extraordinary figures?

Even more tragically, the dark side of this industry threatens the health of coral reefs and populations of other organisms besides fish. The possible consequences to which they are exposed derive not just from damaging extraction methods but also from the fact that importation brings not just fish but vectors of pathogens that put our species in jeopardy.

For the fish of the Caribbean region, the introduction of the lion fish as an invasive exotic species – with one hypothesis being that its appearance in Caribbean waters is owed to the ornamental fish trade – has had an incalculable impact.

Only a few ornamental fish species can reproduce in captivity. The vast majority are extracted from their wild habitat, and the growing industry cannot keep up with demand.

Nowadays the goods and services offered by our reefs must also satisfy a banal wish that can be easily substituted by simply understanding and appreciating what we have in our wild habitats.

In short, we hope Finding Dory’s box office success translates into actions guaranteeing the sustainability of the industry.

The setting of catch quotas, use of environmentally friendly fishing techniques, and regular industry monitoring are some of the measures that are needed for the medium term.

Our marine life forms must be sustained so that the oceans can remain healthy for future generations.