Lionfish are an invasive species that has taken over reef ecosystems in the Atlantic and Caribbean, causing them damage and destruction.
The lionfish is a hot item in SCUBA current events. Though beautiful to observe, this fish has infiltrated a marine ecosystem it does not belong to, causing devastating effects to coral reef systems in the Atlantic along the eastern cost of the US and the Caribbean. Local government and environmental agencies are encouraging SCUBA divers to actively hunt and kill the lionfish, which as it turns out, is a rather tasty fish that can be prepared in a variety of ways.
There are several theories as to how the Lionfish came to be in the local environment. One such theory is that the invasion was facilitated through the destruction of a southern Florida aquarium during Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Another tells of lionfish being accidentally released following the hurricane, and yet another proposes aquarium owners were deliberately releasing them into the sea, unsatisfied with the way the fish performed in the aquarium. Still others claim to have spotted the lionfish on local reefs even before Hurricane Andrew.
The lionfish has been able to reproduce at such profuse levels due to certain crucial factors:
Lionfish all over the place
They have no natural predators on the reefs of the Atlantic and [Caribbean] (. Any creature that sits at the top of the food chain, unchecked by nature, will enjoy the privilege of populating an area with its own species. But this can have disastrous implications for the area as the system becomes more imbalanced.
They have a voracious, unbiased appetite for reef species. The lionfish is an indiscriminate predator, feeding on invertebrates, small fish, mollusks, and juvenile species in large amounts. Up to 6 species of fish have been found in it's stomach at one time. They are aggressive and skilled hunters, using specialized characteristics of their bodies to stalk and overtake prey, which they do in one giant swallow.
They spawn at a highly accelerated rate. he female lionfish releases clusters of 2,000 to 15,000 eggs at one time, which are then fertilized by the male, and hatch 36 hours later. Within 3 days they are competent swimmers, and capable of capturing and consuming small prey. Within 20 - 40 days, the juviniles begins its metamorphosis to adult. The females can repeat this process on a monthly basis with no set breeding season.
They are hostile and venomous. The lionfish is covered in long, venomous spines that serve as a deterrent to predators in its natural environment, and are incorporated into the capture of some prey. The effect of the venom on prey is fatal, whereas the effect on humans is painful, and can bring about symptoms of nausea and fever, but is very rarely fatal. They are extremely aggressive toward other reef species, either chasing them away from the reef or consuming them in a territorial play.
Lionfish need to be caught.
According to research, lionfish are responsible for wiping out up to 80% of reef species in the Atlantic and Caribbean. A few studies have shown the Caribbean grouper to be a natural predator, but due to overfishing, there are not enough groupers to contain the wild spread of the population. That's where SCUBA divers, snorkelers, and anglers come in.
If you live in these areas or will be traveling to one soon, check into local programs dedicated to controlling lionfish populations. Although complete eradication is deemed unrealistic, people with SCUBA training can be of immense assistance in keeping reef ecosystems from being ravaged by this most unwelcome visitor.
Would you like to catch some Lionfish too? Feel free to contact us. We have multiple partners that will be happy to take you out on a dive or 2 where you can hunt the Lion fish.
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Blog written by: Rutger Thole who founded bookyourdive early 2012 because he saw that there was no simple and easy to use platform where divers could go to, to read scuba blogs, browse dive centers within locations and where they could read reviews from other scuba divers. Now working full time with a small dedicated team to ensure the best user experience a scuba diver gets on the web.