Invasion of the Lionfish
Over the recent years Lionfish, a predatory fish native to the Indo-Pacific have been reported far from their native homes in areas where they do not belong like the southeastern United States coast from Florida to North Carolina. It is believed that Lionfish, were introduced to the Caribbean from local aquariums and fish hobbyists. Now loose in the marine environment and free from natural population controls, their number has exploded as they have no natural predators and are consuming large quantities of reef fish.
Lionfish have several names like zebrafish, firefish, turketyfish and more. An adult can grow as large as 18 inches, while juveniles may be as small as 1 inch or less. The lionfish is one of the most venomous fish on the ocean floor. The venom of the lionfish, if delivered through up to 18 needle-like dorsal fins. It is purely defensive and relies on camouflage and lightning-fast reflexes to capture prey.
Lionfish are known for eating anything they can fit in their mouths, and seem to eat nearly constantly. Studies have shown that a single lionfish per reef can reduce the juvenile fish populations by almost 80% in just five weeks. With their non-stop eating habits, lionfish directly impact populations of numerous fish, including commercially valuable fish like groupers, snappers and ecologically key species like the parrotfish. Eating everything in their path they are growing fast and spreading rapidly.
Photo credit: google images
I recently dove in Cozumel where lionfish have spread all over the reefs. The divemaster´s in Cozumel are actively working to kill the lionfish, in fact during one of my dives a friendly grouper whom the divemaster´s had been training to eat lionfish followed us through the entire dive like a little puppy begging for a treat. When the divemaster came across a lionfish the grouper watched over his shoulder while he killed it with a spear and then proceeded to feed it to the grouper.
The grouper at first spit it out but after the divemaster introduced it to the groupers mouth again it eventually ate it. Admitedly it was very bittersweet to witness, it was my first lionfish and I was sad to see it killed.
Though bittersweet it is a good thing that the divemaster´s are doing this because the lionfish have no prey in the area and are killing many fish and the reefs. They need to have a predator in order to keep them from taking over killing all that is left of the marine life in the area.
This invasion could soon become the most disastrous marine invasion in history by drastically reducing the number of reef fish throughout the entire region.
The lionfish, a beauty but yet an alien invader..