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Film fans warned: 'don't flush the fish'

After hundreds of children ‘liberated’ their pet fish down the toilet, following the launch of ‘Finding Nemo’ in the United States, two environmental organisations are keen to avert a similar catastrophe when the animated block buster opens in the UK on 3rd October 2003. The film will be launched in Norway on 14 November.

Actor Alexander Gould helps conservation organisations launch new report and initiative to protect coral reefs.

Cambridge, UK, 30 September 2003 - After hundreds of children ‘liberated’ their pet fish down the toilet, following the launch of ‘Finding Nemo’ in the United States, two environmental organisations are keen to avert a similar catastrophe when the animated block buster opens in the UK on 3rd October 2003. The film will be launched in Norway on 14 November.

There are better ways to ‘save the fish’ and many types of tropical fish do need specialist care, advise scientists at the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, (UNEP-WCMC) in Cambridge, UK, and the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC), Hawaii, USA.

Trade sources reported a 20 percent rise in consumer demand for Clown fish after the film opened in the USA earlier this summer.

To coincide with the premier, UNEP-WCMC is launching a groundbreaking report, ‘From Ocean to Aquarium: The Global Trade In Marine Ornamentals’, which for the first time uses industry data to highlight the most threatened tropical species and makes suggestions and recommendations on their future protection (see below).

Finding Nemo tells the story of a Clown fish who becomes separated from his dad in the Great Barrier Reef, and ends up in a dentist’s office.  One scene shows Nemo return to the sea via a spit basin. After its launch in the US fish traders and plumbing companies received numerous calls from worried parents who found their children had tried to liberate their fish after watching the film.

“Finding Nemo is a very engaging film, and parents who already have aquariums need to explain to their children that the fish will not survive if they are flushed,” says Paul Holthus, president of the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC), a non-profit marine conservation group based in Hawaii. “We also urge parents whose children are inspired by the film to start a saltwater tank, to think carefully before buying tropical marine fish for their children.”

Nine-year-old Alexander Gould, who is the voice of Nemo, is concerned about the safety of the fish and wants to encourage the public to buy fish from responsible aquarists. He said: “ It is okay to keep some types of fish if you know how to look after them. The Marine Aquarium Council makes sure aquarium fish are captured in a kind manner.  It does this to protect the coral reefs, because if the coral is gone, the fish will be gone.  The whole world depends on coral and fish, and they depend on each other.”

The campaign has received a boost from researchers at UNEP-WCMC with the release of the ‘From Ocean to Aquarium’ report, the most comprehensive survey ever undertaken of the global trade in marina aquaria.

According to the report over 20 million tropical fish, including 1471 species ranging from the sapphire devil to the copperhead butterflyfish, are being harvested annually to supply the booming marine aquarium trade in Europe and the United States.

It says that a further nine to 10 million animals, including molluscs, shrimps and anemones and involving some 500 species, are also being traded to supply tanks in homes, public aquaria and dentists’ surgeries.   And, that up to 12 million stony corals are being harvested, transported and sold annually.

“Each year over 20 million fish from almost 1500 species are being taken from coral reefs and brought to aquariums in Europe and the USA, as well as 10 million crabs, snails and starfish,” says Ed Green, one of the report’s authors. “The Clown Anemonefish is the most popular import to Britain with more than 110,000 sold each year,” he said.

Mark Collins, Director of UNEP-WCMC comments that the report provides objective data for the first time and sees an important conservation role for the trade.

“If managed properly, the aquarium industry could support long-term conservation and sustainable use of coral reefs. Some collection techniques have minimal impact on coral and the industry as a whole is of relatively low volume yet of very high value,” he said.

On this theme, From Ocean to Aquarium, highlights some case studies.  It says that in year 2000, 1kg of aquarium fish from the Maldives was valued at almost US$500, whereas 1kg of reef fish harvested for food was worth only US$6.  Similarly, live coral trade is worth about US$7,000 per tonne whereas harvested coral for the production of limestone yields only about US$60 per tonne.

In another example, Sri Lanka earns about US$ 5.6 million per year by exporting reef fish to around 52 countries. The report estimates that 50,000 people in the country are directly involved in the export of marine ornamentals, providing jobs in rural low-income coastal areas and a strong incentive to maintain fish stocks and reef environments in good condition.

Another author of the report, Colette Wabnitz, is a keen diver and has seen in person the unpleasant side of the trade. “A minority of fishermen, in countries such as Indonesia, use sodium cyanide to capture fish,” she said.  “An almost lethal dose of the poison is squirted into the coral reef where fish shelter.  It stuns the fish to allow capture and export, but can also kill coral and other species.  The fish may survive the export process but usually die of liver failure soon after being purchased.” 

Data for the new report has largely come from the Global Marine Aquarium Database, a joint collaborative effort between UNEP-WCMC, the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) and members of various aquarium trade associations.

“Fish certified by the Marine Aquarium Council are healthier and have better survival chances because they are collected, handled and transported according to internationally approved best practice standards,” said Ed Green.  “We encourage responsible traders to sign up to the MAC certification scheme and for the public to only buy from reputable dealers. Only by such means can we ensure a trade, from reef to retail, that is sustainable and beneficial for all.”

Copies of the report are available from the UNEP web site at or at:

For more information please contact: Will Rogowski, UNEP-WCMC Head of Marketing & Communications, on 01223 277314, Email:, Rachel Holdsworth/Gayle Nicol, tel 01954 202789, or Robert Bisset, UNEP Spokesperson for Europe on Tel: 33 1 44377613, Mobile: 33 6 22725842, E-mail:

Note to Editors

Alexander Gould  - ‘the voice of Nemo’ is available for phone interview.

From Ocean to Aquarium is based in part on the Global Marine Aquarium Database (GMAD), which was developed in partnership with the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) to promote sustainable trade. The database contains more than 100,000 records from global aquarium import and export companies. It is accessible online at

MAC—an international not-for-profit organization dedicated to protecting tropical marine fish and coral reefs—has designed the first-ever marine-life certification system which enables consumers to select retailers who sell organisms that complies with internationally approved environmental and quality standards … from reef to retail.

Recently, Sierviskwekerij Waterweelde B.V., an import facility in The Hague, became the first company in Europe to be MAC Certified. Other MAC Certified companies are located in Canada, the Philippines and the United States. A complete, updated list is posted at

The UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre is the biodiversity assessment and policy implementation arm of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the world’s foremost intergovernmental environmental organisation. UNEP-WCMC aims to help decision-makers recognize the value of biodiversity to people everywhere, and to apply this knowledge to all that they do. The Centre’s challenge is to transform complex data into policy-relevant information, to build tools and systems for analysis and integration, and to support the needs of nations and the international community as they engage in joint programmes of action.

UNEP-WCMC provides objective, scientifically rigorous products and services that include ecosystem assessments, support for implementation of environmental agreements, regional and global biodiversity information, research on threats and impacts, and development of future scenarios for the living world.

UNEP News Release Paris 2003/14

Tuesday 30 Sep 2003
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