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Lionfish: to love and to hate

MARINE Life small blue transparentLast 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.


  1. A lot of aquarists release their fish into the warm oceans in Florida without understanding the devastating impact of such an act. Just like the miniatus grouper, most of the Volitans lion fish grow large, and quickly. They will eat any fish that will fit into their relatively large mouth. They are elegant and dangerous as you say, and are easy to maintain as well. Perhaps the solution is to leave these types of fish in their natural habitat and only maintain captive bred species. Thank you for sharing photos of these beautiful creatures!

    • Many thanks for informative comment Rob! Indeed, most likely the aquarists thought they did a favor by releasing the fishes in the ocean. Agree with you..but for the ones in the sea already is bit complicated. I am not sure what is the best solution to combat the invasion. Last year when I was in Cuba, lionfish were everywhere and they were huge! They did not look normal to me – I am used to tiny Asian lionfish :).

      • Not sure what to do about them, Indah. Maybe they are large due to the lack of predators? The Pacific trigger fish will eat lion fish. Maybe the Atlantic trigger fish are not familiar and won’t eat them?

        • Yes, they keep eating and no predators stop their feeding – they are too comfortable in the Caribbean Sea! I have heard that the native fishes in the Atlantic and the Caribbean refuse to eat the lionfish. It’s just not their natural feeds..

  2. I sure loved the idea of the monthly post about a different marine specie!! LOVED IT!!
    And this one was even more interesting, I heard a lot about lionfish, but I wasnt aware of this problem in the Caribbean! How crazy… us humans again! 😦 I hope they find a solution for this problem soon!
    They are so beautiful, your pictures express this very well! Im already excited about the upcoming post on marine species 😀

  3. My guess as is yours, is ignorance of man that has done this. How awful that this is happening. I really hope a natural predator can be introduced into the areas where these lionfish are killing off the natural water life. Your photos again are outstanding, Indah. Thank you for this informative post, one in which I really enjoyed. So much of earth is in dire need. I keep asking if the damage caused has gone too far. (((HUGS))) Amy

    • Thank you so much Amy! So glad to read your positive thoughts! I hope the best for the Caribbean countries and the United’s about their ocean life but where ever we are, we are all connected through ocean..

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