I have long been fascinated by the beautiful “Lionfish” it poses defiantly on coral heads and barrel sponges alike. Beautiful because of its striking display of fins and banded colours. As in many of nature’s creatures this bold display is a warning sign! Those fins contain poisonous spines, not serious enough to kill a human but enough to cause agony in the afflicted limb for hour’s even days. This also means that the usual reef predators such as Moray eels and large Groupers leave them alone.
Therein lays a big problem!
Lionfish are not native to the Caribbean…….. it is believed that the first Lionfish were accidentally released from an aquarium in Biscayne Bay, Florida after Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992. Genetic research shows that the entire Atlantic and Caribbean population are the offspring of only six individuals!!!!! They reproduce at an alarming rate producing up to 2,000 eggs every few weeks.
Although they are a very pretty addition to the reefs they are voracious predators! Surveys have found that a single lionfish in a reef system can reduce the juvenile fish population by 79 % in just a few weeks! Less juvenile fish, less big fish………….
On a recent dive the Divemaster had asked if we were OK with him killing the ones he found. I usually abhor the use of spear guns or any captures; after all I want to see a healthy well populated reef. Having heard of the invasion I had no problem giving my blessing.
The tool of choice is a “Hawaiian Sling” a stick with 3 sharp points on one end with a elastic loop on the other, it works on the same principle as a bow and arrow. The Lionfish are easy targets as they know no fear. The plan was to capture one or two and feed them to the morays; once the morays see them as a food source they will have at least one predator. Unfortunately we saw lots of Lionfish and no Morays.
Option two is death by dinner plate!
Remember these invaders have big, nasty, poisonous spines, once speared they have to be delicately transferred to a net, which of course soon become’s a prickly problem with multiple spines sticking out! At the end of each dive the net was passed into the boat first and stowed safely away.
Our lunch break finished with an anatomy lesson, as the crew skillfully removed the poisonous spines, filleted the white firm flesh and exposed the egg sacs and the half-digested juvenile fish; we found four victims in one stomach.
All across the Caribbean the battle is being fought, in Placencia they have a “Lionfish Tournament” teams of six, doing 3 dives in the day, compare their tally’s, the winning team gathered almost 300 in one day!
Lionfish happen to be very tasty eating, which is a darned good thing because their only real predator is us! Man has tinkered with natures balance once again, looks like it is up to us to help restore it, so go on eat Lionfish!
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