Lionfish in the Caribbean Sea: Overview and Solution

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How Did It All Started? 

Spreading Lionfish Invasion Threatens Bahamas : NPR

Lionfish was first imported for aesthetic purpose, source: NPR newsLinks to an external site.

Lionfish were originally introduced as popular marine ornamental fish in South Florida in the late 80s, they have beautiful fins and the way they swim in the water is just elegant. However, people would never imagine that 20 years late, these little creatures are take over the coast of Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

In early 2000s, lionfish swam up the coastline and accumulated in population density.  Around 2008, lionfish start to invade the islands including popular vacation spots like Bahamas and Cuba. Then lionfish quickly spread around the coastline and in 2013 they reached to Gulf of Mexico. Until now, the latest data from 2020 showed that they've established large population around the Caribbean Sea. 

Lionfish Animation Map.gif

Data source: U.S Geological SurveyLinks to an external site.

Beautiful, But Vicious 

The reason behind rampant invasion of lionfish is likely due to their fast reproduction ability. Lionfish reach sexual maturity in less than a year; one female lionfish can lay up to 2 million eggsLinks to an external site. per year. Other than their incredible reproductive capability, lionfish have poison-releasing spines everywhere in their body. These spines form an armour, as protective and defensive mechanism, making themselves hard to swallow for large predators. Lionfish can also puncture enemies with their spines and release neurotoxins. 

Lionfish Facts: Frequently Asked Questions About Invasive Lionfish

Lionfish usually have 18 venomous spines, source: Lionfish.CoLinks to an external site.

Because of the spiny buildup, lionfish face few predators and competitors. Nothing can put a brake on their endless appetite! Yes, lionfish can EAT A LOT. Their stomach can extend to 30 timesLinks to an external site. bigger than normal size. StudyLinks to an external site. has shown that lionfish can reduce native fish population by 79% in just five weeks. Lionfish's consumption on coral reef fishes is devastating, threatening the well-being of these habitats . 

PGY lionfish dead reeef

Lionfish put massive stress on coral reef, source: Planting PeaceLinks to an external site.

What Can We Do?  

The problem with invasive species is that there is no guarantee in eliminating them completely, especially for lionfish where they lack predators, breed so fast and eat everything. It is obvious that invasive lionfish cause havoc in the Caribbean ecosystem, but what we do to stop them from spreading? Here are two popular (and novel) approaches: 

1. Sharks

Since reef sharks are one of a few predators that can choke down a lionfish, divers are training sharks to familiarize the taste of lionfish. By feeding them to predators, divers hope to control the lionfish population as they become part of the food chain. 

Pictures: Sharks Taught to Hunt Alien Lionfish

Source: National Geography

Video on training sharks to eat lionfish: Teaching Sharks (and Eels) to Attack Invasive Lionfish

2. Cook 'em

Lionfish are safe to eat once the spines are disposed. They have become popular dishes in many restaurants, people describe their flesh as "mild, tender". Have you tried before? 

Caribbean Lionfish – Put This Invasive Species on Your Grill -

Make lionfish to tasty dishes, source: BarbecueBible


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