One of the dilemmas we’ve had in Florida in recent decades is invasive species. An invasive species is an alien species brought into a new environment that causes havoc to the remaining environment. In many cases, these species were brought over for commercial purposes (sych as selling them as exotic pets). Among the many invasive species introduced to Florida and it’s surrounding waters is the highly dangerous Lionfish. Called by many names (including “zebrafish”and “turkeyfish”), the lionfish have been causing mayhem in the Pacific food chain for many years. It is thought that they were unintentionally introduced into the wild and they have since multiplied considerably.
One reason for their sharp increase in population is that they have no predators. Having no predators to hunt them in this new environment, they run unchecked, devouring smaller reef-dwelling fish that normally serve as food for the fish indigenous to the area. As well as causing food chain disturbances, lionfish are deadly to many other creatures, including ones larger than themselves. They have stripes which can serve as camouflage, which only makes them more difficcult to see when eradication efforts are made. Lionfish also have venom-filled spines which are poisonous and deadly, even to humans. Because of the poison and camouflage, lionfish are difficult to eradicate.
That doesn’t make stabilization efforts nonexistent, however. Efforts in the Florida Keys include a Lionfish Derby in which divers are offered a hefty prize of $10,000 for every captured lionfish (within a specific sanctuary). This event starts in the month of September. The derby started as early as the year 2009. The divers entered in the competition are offered protective gear, like thick gloves to prevent accidental poisoning. There is a hundred dollar registration fee for a four person team of licensed divers. So far, the derby is responsible for the removal of 2500 lionfish.
In addition, a move has been made to popularize the consumption of the lionfish. While the fish is deadly as-is because of it’s poison-filled spines, there are several methods in which the spines can be safely removed (and the attached video lists just one of them). REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) has started a campaign encouraging markets and restaurants to sell lionfish as a delicacy. Apparently, without the poison, the lionfish itself is considered to be quite tasty (taste tests with the spines un-removed were varied). Everyone from adventurous home cooks to cutting-edge restaurant owners have embraced the move, even as far north as New York. With so many people involved in the movement, it’s possible that this is one of the most successful efforts made.
Although the most sightings of lionfish are currently concentrated near the Bahamas and Florida, there are reports of lionfish all along the East coast, as far as New York. If the ever-growing population of lionfish is left unchecked, they could soon take over most of the waters in the Pacific. While efforts such as the ones listed above are being made, there is still a long way to go until aquatic harmony is again achieved.
By Jillian and Rachel