Lionfish: to love and to hate
Last month I posted a short article about a special marine species, the colorful Nudibranch. I get inspired after many positive response – thank you! – to write on monthly basis about marine life. The aim is to introduce our ocean and its species. I am not a marine biologist so information resources came from fish guide book and related articles but the underwater photos were taken by myself during our diving holidays, unless I mentioned otherwise.
I guess the most hated fish by scuba-divers in the Caribbean Sea must be lionfish. I mentioned about it on my Cuban’s shark diving post. The Caribbean Sea is suffering by a growing number of Common and Red Lionfish species that are not natives to the Caribbean Sea. Lionfish is a native to the South Pacific and Indian Oceans. The invasion of lionfish in the Caribbean caused huge problems to its corals since there is no lionfish predators in the Caribbean while the lionfish eat juvenile and adult fish in high speed. Lionfish is also reproducing very quickly. It is feared that the local native reef fishes will be lost, eaten by this greedy guest. If the native fishes were gone that will continued to dying corals.
How did they get into the Caribbean Sea is another story. There are several stories like Asian tsunami that made them swept away to the Caribbean (a story that I heard when I was in Bonaire). When I was in Belize and Mexico, I was told it was a hotel in Bahama that went bankrupt and threw away their saltwater aquarium that contained of lionfish into the ocean. Meanwhile Cuba had different story: it was a Chinese ship that carried ornamental fishes such as the lionfish, sunk in the region. National Geographic was finally came out with the story that the initial source of the invasion caused by personal aquarium releases, probably by people who’s lionfish were getting too big for the tank or eating the other fish.
Lionfish is an enemy in the Caribbean countries and the United States, but in its native oceans, lionfish is loved and adored. It is a beautiful fish and dangerous at the same time. Lionfish has venomous spines, they are not poisonous but the venom would hurts human for days and unpleasant. Actually there are more lionfish species than the ones invading the Caribbean Sea. They are unique fish, truly matching to the colorful corals in the Asia Pacific oceans. They usually stay on top of the corals area and their spines will expand when they hunt for fish. After witnessing so many different type of lionfish species in Indonesia and the Philippines, I can assure it was not Asian tsunami that made the lionfish migrated to the Caribbean sea, otherwise by now there would be several lionfish species in the Caribbean Sea. Most likely the invasion was started because of human’s ignorance.
I have to admit that most lionfish in the Caribbean sea are lots bigger than the ones in Indonesia and the Philippines. The future of the Caribbean Sea with such invasion looks worrying. While bringing the lionfish native predator from the Pacific to the Caribbean Sea could create another issue; lionfish hunting, killing and cooking become popular choices to combat the invasion. Other alternative is to create a predator of lionfish from the Caribbean Sea itself. In Belize, some scuba-divers began feeding lionfish to grouper while in Jardines de la Reina, Cuba, they tried with the sharks. I have seen the lionfish killing and it was not a pretty sight, maybe because I have seen how beautiful they were in their native environment. I dislike the killings but on the other hand, without any actions, the Caribbean Sea would be dying. To love or to hate the lionfish, I guess it would depend on where the lionfish are.
Magnificent images as always with a very poignant backstory. When we were sailing in Bonaire, we met a lionfish hunter who turned her prey into gorgeous jewelry. The invasion has devastated the Caribbean, and up to Florida and hunters have become one way to fight it.