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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tables turned on invading Lionfish

To scuba divers armed with cameras, they are the perfect spot, flamboyant, exotic and also beautiful to photograph.
Unfortunately, lionfish are also a damned fine predator that is threatening a number of eco-systems in which it has 'invaded'.

Now environmentalists around the Bahamas and Cayman Islands are fighting back to protect their pristine coral reefs.

Lionfish are native to the indo-Pacific waters and were until recently rarely found elsewhere. That was until a ten or so years ago when they began turning up in waters off the east coast of America and around the Bahamas and Cayman Islands.

How they got there is open to debate, but they posed a threat to the eco-system.
With no natural predator, their population exploded and with prey unaware of their voracious hunting skills, native reef fish numbers were decimated.

The fightback has seen divers capture more than 200 red lionfish on Cayman’s reefs since the ferocious species first invaded the local waters early last year, in a move copied from the Bahamas.

Licenced scuba divers, authorised by the Department of Environment and the Marine Conservation Board, have caught 233 of the fish on all three islands in the last 16 months and handed them over to the department to be destroyed.

Bradley Johnson, research officer with the Department of Environment, told CayCompass.com: "The invasion of the Caribbean by lionfish started in the Bahamas. They came from the east coast of the US to the Bahamas and then into the Caribbean.
“Our intention is to remove any and all lionfish we find in Cayman waters. The more we remove, the fewer native fish will be eaten by them.”
He said all the divers can do is keep removing them from the underwater habitat and hope that native species begin to adapt to this new predator.

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