Lionfish...A Prickly Situation

Our expedition to the Bahamas is getting closer and closer. However, there is still work to be done and learning to do before we travel. A recent lecture had the SEA TURTLEs learning about an invasive species that is quickly taking over Caribbean waters. Don Stark, a volunteer diver at the Aquarium and a fantastic videographer, came to speak about this prickly fish. Here is his post on the problem:

Lionfish on the reef-photo courtesy of Don Stark

One of the tropical species the SEA TURTLEs will probably see during their visit to the Bahamas is the lionfish. Lionfish (Pterois volitans and Petrois miles) are beautiful fish native to the Indian Ocean and tropical Pacific Ocean. But over the past decade, they have been found throughout the tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. How did they get into these waters? The major hypothesis is that the 1991 Hurricane Andrew destroyed an aquarium in Key Biscayne, FL which housed a small number of lionfish. Since this time, lionfish have spread as far north as Rhode Island and as far south as Venezuela.

2009 distribution of lionfish in the Atlantic and Caribbean (NOAA map)

I became interested in lionfish and their potential impact on Caribbean reef health when I first started seeing them while diving around the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) in 2006. Since those first sightings in 2006, lionfish are seen on virtually every dive site around the TCI. These invasive animals threaten the health of reefs by consuming juvenile fish which reduces biodiversity and depleting those animals, such as parrotfish, which help maintain a healthy reef system. Over the past year, I have been working with the Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources in the Turks & Caicos Islands in their effort to control the lionfish population via creating incentives for fishermen to catch lionfish and licensing selected individuals and diving operators to collecting lionfish in Marine Parks around the TCI.

Don speaking to the class

SEA TURTLEs listening

The discussion with the SEA TURTLEs was focused on defining the problem of invasive species and the efforts being undertaken by local governments in an effort to control the invasion. There were lots of great questions and fortunately, no one injured themselves on the needle-like dorsal fin spins I brought in for show and tell about lionfish (which have venomous spines in their dorsal, anal and pectoral fins).

Isaiah looks at a lionfish spine


This isn't the first time teens learned from Aquarium experts about lionfish! Click here and here to read previous blog entries about lionfish in the Bahamas.


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