The Invasive Lionfish
Since 1992, the lionfish, native to Australia and Indonesia, has been making quite a name for itself, as it invades the Atlantic Ocean. Having already done major damage to ecosystems in the Caribbean, the lionfish is now threatening the coral reefs of the Florida Keys. It’s a venomous, ravenous species that doesn’t discriminate in choosing its prey, and is threatening to decimate native populations of fish that are the lifeblood of the region’s commercial fishing and tourism industries. On top of that, the lionfish repopulates at a rate that puts rabbits to shame- a single female can lay 2 million eggs in a year…
If the lionfish’s impact on other parts of the Caribbean is any guide, Mr. Walton and others in the region are right to be concerned. It is a formidable predator that can devastate fish populations wherever it feeds. Researchers here examined more than 1,000 lionfish stomachs and found more than 50 species of prey fish inside, including juveniles of commercially important grouper and snapper. The fish also eat juvenile parrotfish, which graze on algae and keep it from overgrowing and killing corals.
To fight back, the local government has been hosting lionfish hunting derbies: day-long hunting events in which teams compete to catch the greatest number of invaders, for a $3,450 cash prize. But while the derbies are popular (one held earlier this month in Key West featured 18 teams), their effectiveness is in question: only 108 fish were caught in that derby. But in a fight against a fish that seems invincible, locals are going to keep trying.
Photo: Matt Kieffer