Lionfish Invasion a Disaster in the Atlantic

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The venomous lionfish, an invasive species in the Atlantic, has been multiplying to the point of becoming an ecological disaster. Graham Maddocks, president and founder of Ocean Support Foundation, says that "The lionfish invasion is probably the worst environmental disaster the Atlantic will ever face."

And the problem has only just begun. The lionfish, which reproduces quickly, and eats almost anything that can fit in its mouth, has long been a problem in the Caribbean. And for some time, the fish has been migrating up the eastern Atlantic coast in the U.S. Pterois, the proper name of the lionfish, is an Indo-Pacific native species, but has been recorded in the Atlantic for decades.

The fish, which has been eating itself to fatty liver disease on the Atlantic seaboard, produces roughly 30,000 to 40,000 eggs a day, has no natural predators except for humans, and the native fish in its invaded waters haven't yet evolved to instinctively run from it. They can wipe out 90% of a reef, and the larger ones are now being found as deep as 300 feet.

Pterois are popular aquarium fish; Captain Picard has one in his ready room fish tank, (why would he not?), and a lionfish can now be shipped to one's doorstep for about $75 dollars, via the mail order aquarist trade. Florida pet owners have been blamed for introducing the fish into the Atlantic, and DNA analysis has traced the linage of the invasive population to only 6 to 8 females.

Lionfish are also good eating, but one must take care in removing their poisonous spines. Across Bermuda, there are lionfish tournaments and lionfish fries, and one can see "Eat 'em to Beat 'em" T-shirts throughout the island.

Still, Graham Maddocks points out that eating as many lionfish as we can will not be enough to eradicate the problem. "It's an infestation. The Atlantic Ocean is a big place, but the areas being affected are extremely important."

"I don't know if we can stop the lionfish invasion. This isn't a battle we can win, we can only maintain," Maddocks said. "Human beings started this problem. It is our fault they are here. We have to take responsibility and try to fix or hope we can control it."

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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