Lionfish in the Caribbean

Since it was first discovered in Florida in the mid-1990s, the lionfish has invaded the entire Caribbean. Threatening the environment but also leading to creative business ideas, the lionfish has a great impact.

Posted on Jul 19, 2012

The introduction of the lionfish to the Caribbean was most likely caused by hurricane Andrew, which in 1992 battered the Florida coast and destroyed an aquarium. Six lionfish escaped.

The ferocious predator native to the Indo-Pacific had spread to the Bahamas in 2004, and has since reached the far corners of the Caribbean.

According to the STINAPA foundation on Bonaire the lionfish grows faster than almost any fish in the Caribbean. The protein it needs comes from reef fish and shrimps.

The fate of the coral reefs on Bonaire and other Caribbean destinations hangs in the balance. Scientists and environmentalists worry about the outcome of the lionfish invasion - and so does the dive industry.

- The lionfish has no natural enemies in the Caribbean, and the only option is to become predators ourselves, STINAPA says.

Commercial creativity

Dive resorts are offering lionfish hunting contests, and you can even become a PADI Lionfish Hunter. Tourist divers help by marking sites where lionfish have been spotted, and specially trained lionfish hunter teams move in to kill the perpetrators.

Even more creative ideas like "Go Hunting and Eat Your Catch" and lionfish cooking demos have seen the light of day. But will it be enough to save the reefs?

This may be the worst outcome of the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean: If too many herbivore reef fish are eaten, the coral may eventually be overgrown by algae and die.

The lionfish eat their way through what would have become new generations of reef fish, and their juveniles compete with the native fish for food. The entire ecosystem is at risk.

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