Venomous. Fast. Deadly. Will swallow food whole every time. Subject to only one known predator, which includes humans. What could this describe? The lionfish (native of the Pacific and Indian oceans) is the creature that is now taking over the Atlantic Ocean.
Roughly sized at fifteen inches, these marine creatures are not intimidating for their size, but rather the poisonous protrusions on their bodies. Typically active during the day, lionfish are found in rocky, shallow bays as well as coral reefs where camouflage is capable.
Graham Maddocks, the president of Ocean Support Foundation, recently spoke with CNN about the invasion. "The lionfish invasion is probably the worst environmental disaster the Atlantic will ever face."
Graham Maddocks went on to further explain, "I don't know if we can stop the lionfish invasion. This isn't a battle we can win, we can only maintain. 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."
James Morris, an ecologist with the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, echoed the sentiments of Graham Maddocks in a recent phone interview with CNN.
"It's an infestation. The Atlantic Ocean is a big place, but the areas being affected are extremely important," James Morris said.
Concerns for the ecosystem focus around the capacity of the lionfish to devour other types of fish that cross their paths. Lionfish can produce 30,000 to 40,000 eggs within just a few days time and it is not unheard of for these fish to live for fifteen years, which equates with the potential for a high volume of unstoppable fish to dominate whatever areas these marine creatures inhabit. The potential for the survival of other types of marine life that inhabit the same space may be grim.
Lionfish have poison in the needle-like protrusions from their bodies; however, there is no poison within the flesh of the fish and as such humans can consume without fear of ingesting poison. Many people have previously been afraid to eat the fish due to myths about the type of poison.
Efforts have been underway in order to control the population of lionfish, which includes nine various subspecies. Some of the ongoing efforts for population control have included promoting lionfish tournaments and community-wide events such as fish fries.
Though the concern is far from over, people must continue to strive to maintain an eco-friendly balance where one species does not overtake the others.
[Images Via Wikimedia Commons Courtesy of LASZLO ILYES, Serge Melki, Sebastian Wallroth, Daniel Dietrich and Ocean Support Foundation's Facebook Page]