Why are the Lionfish Invading the Carribean?
They are a graceful, elegant fish that is reminiscent of lace floating in water. But that beauty doesn’t positively influence everything the lionfish comes near. Looking through another lens, the elegant lionfish is a predator causing havoc around the world.
Recent accounts have been showing the vibrant example of grace in fish form all around the globe. This is not a good thing. In fact, the fish that seems so lovely is actually been deemed an invasive species in the Atlantic. Why? Their presence, as a non-native species, is intruding upon other species and causing detrimental affects to native organisms.
How is it possible that a fish that seems so incredibly beautiful is able to cause such serious damage as to cause “detrimental affects”?
The first problem comes from the lionfish’s incredible diet. This little fish is a big eater. It basically loves to eat anything of the sea, so to a lion fish the healthy coral reefs that are so plentiful acts as a never-ending source of nutrition. This, of course, causes problems for other species, and in some regions of the world could likely deplete organisms completely.
The second problem lies in that the expansion of the lionfish is allowing it to move into areas such as the Caribbean that do not have natural predators. In the Pacific there were three types of organisms that feasted upon the lionfish: the grouper, sharks, and coronetfish. Unfortunately these three predators to the lionfish aren’t necessarily taking care of business in the way it needs to be handled.
The third problem is connected to natural predators not being able to keep a handle on the global population explosion of the lionfish: they have babies by the millions, literally. Female lionfish are said to lay over two million fish eggs a year. So, when a fish with very little predator issues realizes that it has a global stage of unlimited food sources, it starts to take things over.
There are three other ways to help the situation. One is already underway and it is doing as much as it can; that being the cool temperatures of the Atlantic Ocean and other areas where it is being found such as (according to NOAA) the Bahamas, Columbia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos, the Cayman Islands as well as Belize, Haiti, U.S. Virgin Islands, Mexico, and Aruba.
A second way is being tried out in Honduras. According to the National Geographic, there are divers training the wild sharks to feed on the lionfish. This is working to some extent.
The third aspect that could help with population control are us humans. How? Basically by doing one of the things that we love to do most: eat! There is a new campaign hitting the streets that is promoting the eating of lionfish. In fact, researchers from Roger Williams University, REEF, NOAA and the North Carolina Sea Grant released a report saying that the nutritional benefits (i.e. omega-3s, for example) of lionfish consumption are higher than Bluefin tuna, red snapper and grouper.
So, how can we help the ocean’s fragile coral ecosystem out? Try ordering lionfish the next time you’re visiting a nice restaurant or sushi establishment. The meat is said to be tender and succulent. Who knows it might become your favorite fish to eat.