Deadly Invasion by Drew McArthur

Deadly Invasion by Drew McArthur

Divers in the waters of the western Atlantic are on a killing spree. Armed with spears and containment devices, they take to the water in order to cull as much as possible. Tournaments are held with cash prizes awarded for the biggest, smallest and heaviest haul. There is one specific species targeted, but no discrimination between age, size or gender. Environmentalists, scientists and even governments actively support the culling. But exactly what are they hunting and why? The target is the lionfish and the reason they are being culled with such ferocity is due to the devastation they are inflicting on a beautiful habitat. Such is their appetite, that their stomach can stretch up to thirty times to accommodate prey over half their own size. A study in the Bahamas found them to cause an 80 percent reduction in native fish in just five weeks. They breed and spread at an astonishing rate and have been found to hold up to 60 dead fish and crustaceans in their gut at one time. Native species now struggle as they compete with this newcomer, and immense strain is being put on the food chain. Simply put, the lionfish are literally eating the reef population in to extinction. The problem stems from the fact that these fish are not native to the east coast of America. Their arrival has caused chaos within this ecosystem. Lionfish are referred to as an “invasive species” due to the fact that, since their introduction in the mid 1980’s, their population has simply exploded. They have found a utopia in this new habitat as they feed gluttonously...

Grouper/ Invasive Lionfish Live Open Water Kill

This video is believed to be the first photo documentation of a grouper making an open water kill of an invasive lionfish without encouragement of any kind by a diver. Footage by Jim Hart, co-founder and executive director of Lionfish...
Little Cayman Study Shows Success of Lionfish Culling

Little Cayman Study Shows Success of Lionfish Culling

Lionfish hunters are having a dramatic impact in protecting reef fish from the voracious predators, results from two years of field studies in Little Cayman show. Researchers found that dive sites where lionfish were systematically culled had 70 percent more native fish compared to nearby sites where lionfish populations remained undisturbed. Final results from the ongoing research project, which involves quarterly surveys of six dive sites off Little Cayman, will likely be published in a scientific journal and used to fuel future policy in combating the invasive species across the Caribbean. Initial findings, shared with the Caymanian Compass, add weight to the belief that removal of lionfish from the ocean by divers is the most effective way to combat the invasive creatures, which are eating their way through reefs across the region. Other international research projects have failed to find conclusive evidence that marine predators could learn to feed on lionfish. The latest project, led by the Central Caribbean Marine Institute and funded by Guy Harvey’s Ocean Foundation, focused on the impact of human intervention. Katie Lohr, who led the project, said it was encouraging to see that reef fish were more abundant on sites where divers regularly speared lionfish. “It’s really good news and it shows that the volunteers who have been giving their time to help our reefs are having an impact,” she said. “It really shows what kind of impact we would be seeing if they weren’t managed by humans.” The Cayman Islands Department of Environment confirmed this week that it is not issuing any new spears to divers until it has reviewed the current volunteer...
Should We Cull “Invading” Lionfish?

Should We Cull “Invading” Lionfish?

While there are multiple sides to every issue, there are some very convincing arguments supporting removal of lionfish from Atlantic waters. Before we get into the detailed reasons, we should understand this is not a natural migration of lionfish into a new area, rather an introduction caused by man. Lionfish are extremely popular aquarium fish, and the same reasons that make them a burden to keep –– ravenous feeders with venomous spines –– position them to be perfectly suited as invaders in Atlantic and Caribbean waters. Based on the recent work of Reef Environmental Education Foundation and researchers James Morris, Stephanie Green, Mark Hixon and others, we know that lionfish in the Atlantic: grow quickly, reaching maturity at less than a year of age; reproduce year-round with up to 30,000 eggs per spawning event (every four days); eat almost any prey that will fit in their mouth (up to half their own body size); feed on commercially and ecologically important species including grouper/snapper, parrotfish, cleaner species; have few if any predators in the Atlantic; and are reaching incredible densities up to 20 times higher than similar-size native species. The bottom line is that they are out-competing our native fish and consuming them at unsustainable rates. Invasive species are the primary cause of extinction of other organisms, surpassing even human impacts. Could lionfish cause extinction of our native species? We can’t be sure, but the scenario is likely and once it happens it will be too late to reverse the change. And what of the consequences of those losses? If cleaner species –– which have been found in lionfish stomachs...