Lionfish in the Bahamas were first recorded in 2004 after they drifted across the Gulf Stream from Florida. Theories still abound as to how this native Indo-Pacific fish ended up in Atlantic and Caribbean waters. The original lionfish are thought to have come from either the accidental release of a number of fish from a Miami aquarium or the ballast water of Asian ships. Either way, lionfish have arrived in the region to devastating consequences. Both conservation groups and scientists have noted that reefs with lionfish have experienced precipitous declines in local fish and crustacean numbers because lionfish have no natural predators in the Atlantic and Caribbean. Lionfish also have ferocious appetites and breed prolifically, which means that they can potentially destroy native fish populations for good. Hunting lionfish in the Bahamas has become a necessity when it comes to saving the reefs.
What’s to be done?
This is where divers can do our part to help local reefs, by removing lionfish from our local dive sites. Many countries are spearing lionfish and sponsoring “lionfish roundups.”
This works well when you don’t have a nearby shark population that may get a little too excited when you spear. At Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas we teach the PADI Invasive Lionfish Tracker specialty. Written by Stephanie Wallwork and supported by marine scientists, this is a great option for divers who either can’t or don’t want to spearfish.
What’s the PADI Invasive Lionfish Tracker Distinctive Specialty?
Any PADI Open-Water (or another agency’s equivalent rating) certified diver age 15 or older may take the course, which consists of theory in the morning followed by two open-water dives in the afternoon. This specialty can also count toward your PADI Master Scuba Diver rating.
The theory portion of the class will teach you some essential facts and behavioral characteristics of lionfish. It also teaches students about their progressive invasion of the northwestern Atlantic and Caribbean. You’ll receive an introduction to invasive lionfish tracking to familiarize you with the skills, knowledge, planning, organization, procedures, techniques, problems, hazards and enjoyment all involved when it comes to invasive lionfish-management diving. The course also explains why we must act now to help control the population, as well as describing how to safely capture these fish.
By the end of knowledge development, student divers will be able to explain a variety of things including:
- The correct family, genus and species names for lionfish
- Lionfish morphology and lifespan
- Their habitat preference and behavior
- Lionfish reproduction and growth facts
- The hunting methods of lionfish and identification of its prey
- Whether lionfish are venomous or dangerous to humans
- The various theories relating to lionfish introduction
- Known lionfish predators
- The negative effects on native species resulting from lionfish introduction
- The procedure for reporting lionfish
- The correct techniques for capturing and euthanizing lionfish
During the Dives
During the Open Water dives you’ll watch an Invasive Lionfish Instructor demonstrate buddy-team cooperation to first locate a lionfish and then get into a position to capture it. Using two specially created nets, you’ll slowly collect the lionfish, then you’ll transfer the fish into a bag. One of the easiest ways to do so is to wear a protective glove, grasp the fish by the head, and move it tail-first into your bag. The process causes minimal stress for the animal and stops any nearby sharks from coming to investigate. The lionfish is able to swim in the bag as you search for more.
The process of euthanizing the fish once you’re out of the water involves a mixture of clove oil and alcohol. The mixture is basically a narcotic that euthanizes the fish in a humane way, causing as little distress as possible. This is an option if you do not want to eat the fish. But at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas we always eat any lionfish we catch as it’s not only delicious, but what better fish to eat from the ocean than one that’s contributing to the destruction of the reefs? I do not eat any other seafood due to sustainability, but I enjoy this one freely without the worry of causing species decline.
Who should (and shouldn’t take the course)
This course is obviously not for everyone, and many people will feel disinclined to kill anything in the ocean. Sadly, however, we created this problem in the first place due to human carelessness. The lionfish invasion is one of the worst marine invasions we’ve ever seen. Although it’s impossible to eradicate them entirely, divers can help keep their local coral reefs clear of lionfish at recreational depths. This will help give native fish species and other marine animals the chance to live and reproduce, as well as to fight off other pressures, such as coral bleaching and ocean acidification.
If you’re a diver interested in the Invasive Lionfish Tracker course or are a PADI Instructor who wants to become an Invasive Lionfish Instructor, contact PADI Course Director Hayley-Jo Carr .