Lionfish invasion continuing to expand Their numbers continue to expand. They are spreading throughout the Caribbean Sea. Eradication appears almost impossible. Even limited amounts of control will be extremely difficult, and right now the best available plan is to capture and eat them. Such is the desperate status of the lionfish wars, an invasion of this predatory fish from the Pacific Ocean into the Bahamas and Caribbean region that threatens everything from coral reef ecosystems to the local economies, which are based on fishing and tourism. With a new three-year, $700,000 grant from the National Science Foundation - under the American Recovery and Investment Act - scientists from Oregon State University are urgently trying to address a looming crisis. "This is a new and voracious predator on these coral reefs and it's undergoing a population explosion," said Mark Hixon, an OSU professor of zoology, expert on coral reef ecology and leader of the research effort. "The threats to coral reefs all over the world were already extreme, and they now have to deal with this alien predator in the Atlantic. Lionfish eat many other species and they seem to eat constantly." "Native fish literally don't know what hit them." OSU research has already determined that within a short period after the entry of lionfish into an area, the survival of small reef fishes is slashed by about 80 percent. Aside from the rapid and immediate mortality of marine life, the loss of herbivorous fish will also set the stage for seaweed to potentially overwhelm the coral reefs and disrupt the delicate ecological balance in which they exist. This newest threat follows on the heels of overfishing, sediment deposition, nitrate pollution in some areas, coral bleaching caused by global warming, and increasing ocean acidity caused by carbon emissions. Lionfish may be the final straw that breaks the back of Western Atlantic and Caribbean coral reefs. Contrary to their status in native Pacific Ocean waters, lionfish have virtually no natural enemies in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. Whatever is keeping them in check in the Pacific - and scientists are trying to find out what that is - is missing here. In the Caribbean, they are found at different depths, in various terrains, are largely ignored by local predators and parasites, and are rapidly eating their way through entire ecosystems. They are colorful, attractive — and dangerous. Lionfish are a venomous ocean-going reef dweller that is spreading throughout tropical waters. First sighted in the Atlantic Ocean in 2000, this western Pacific native is developing a growing stronghold here. The fish has 18 needle-like dorsal fins that deliver venom as part of a defense mechanism. A brush against one of its spines can cause severe pain for hours, all from a fish no longer than 15 inches. Scott Hardin, exotic species coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said it’s not a serious problem in Florida — yet. He said their increasing presence in shallow state waters, though, is cause for concern. “Nobody really knows how the population got started here,” Hardin said. “Some theories suggest Hurricane Andrew in 1992 caused problems with aquarists. “That is not plausible since most of the lionfish seen occur in waters 80- to 100-feet deep and not in shallower water — until recently.” Hardin said numbers are growing in the Florida Keys, despite shallow water depths. He said a bigger problem is playing out in the Bahamas, as a larger population there is consuming colorful reef fish, causing concern in the diving industry. Bahamian officials also say the fish is eating juvenile snapper, grouper and grunts, important fish to the nation’s recreational fishing fleet. Carribbean trackers claim their count has grown five-fold in just four years. And a Panama Web site is promoting the removal of lionfish through a spearfishing campaign — ISpearLionfish.org. Hardin also has this to contend with: Lionfish are legally sold at aquarium shops. “There are no plans, at the present time, to prohibit the sale of lionfish,” said Hardin, who also oversees the state’s python problem. “What we don’t want is to generate a response where aquarium owners are suddenly dumping their unwanted lionfish because they heard there is about to be some sort of law against buying them.” Perhaps in a last line of defense, Hardin said biologists are hopeful some of Florida’s prized gamefish will step in. “We think some of the bigger groupers will figure out how to eat them, and some already have,” he said. IF STUNG BY A LIONFISH The FWC does not recommend the capture of lionfish because of the venomous nature of its sting. Despite its painful nature to humans, the sting is rarely fatal. Recommendation: Stings from lionfish can be serious, and should not be taken lightly. If stung, immerse wound in hot water (100-110 F or 38-43 C) for 15-20 minutes. Do not burn skin and seek medical attention as soon as possible. It is recommended that you call the Aquatic Toxins Hotline at the Florida Poison Information Center in Miami, where medical experts will advise you immediately. This Hotline is available 24/7, and the number is (outside US 011, not toll-free) 888-232-8635. LIONFISH FACTS Geographic Location and Habitat: Native to western Pacific Ocean ranging from Southern Japan to Australia and Micronesia. Lionfish are being reported primarily by Scuba divers in water depths from 1 to 100 meters on rocky outcrops, coral reef and artificial substrates and mangrove habitats. You can help by reporting all lionfish sightings to the USGS website below. Location information such as lat/long, depth and type of habitat is also encouraged. Identification: Lionfish have distinctive red, maroon, and white vertical stripes; fleshy tentacles above eyes and below mouth; fan-like pectoral fins, 13 long separated dorsal spines, 10-11 dorsal soft rays, 3 anal spines and 6-7 anal soft rays. An adult lionfish can grow as large as 18 inches. Lionfish Name___________________________________________ Date__________ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ar0CX8dj948 1. What is happening to the population of these lionfish when they hit the Bahamas and Caribbean region? 2. What is a problem about their appetites? 3. When lionfish enter an area, what happens to the survival rate of small reef fishes? 4. With the mortality of marine life, what could potentially overwhelm the coral reefs? 5. Name 4 other issues that have been an ongoing threat to coral reefs? 6. Why are lionfish taking over in the tropical Atlantic Ocean? 7. Describe their natural defense system? 8. Could lionfish be a future problem for Florida? 9. What theory is there about how the lionfish got here. 10. How is Panama dealing with their lionfish problem? 11. Why is it not smart to try to capture a lionfish? 12. Is it venomous? 13. How large can a lionfish grow to?