Invasive Lionfish in Bermuda: Q&A

Written by on May 15, 2013 in Fish, Other News
Lionfish. Photo credit: Corey Eddy.

Lionfish. Photo credit: Corey Eddy.

Lionfish (Pterois miles and P. volitans) are native to the Indo-Pacific but in less than a decade they have flooded the waters along the Southeastern U.S. and Caribbean. This highly invasive species is becoming one of the biggest threats to our oceans as it out-competes commercially important fish species and alters whole reef communities. For more background on lionfish, check out this article

In order to address the lionfish problem in Bermuda, a group of scientists, researchers and environmentalists is creating a lionfish exhibit at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute that highlights the impact of lionfish and how Bermuda plans to address the issue. MST recently had the chance to speak with Corey Eddy who is helping out with the exhibit.

Corey Eddy is a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He is also a fellow through the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program and the Academic Liaison for the Ocean Support Foundation. As part of his doctoral thesis, he is working with the Bermuda Lionfish Task Force to study the ecological impact of lionfish upon Bermuda’s marine environment.

Below is a shortened version of the Q&A with Corey. To read the full interview, click here.

Q- How did lionfish end up in the Caribbean and Atlantic? Is it true that people released them from aquariums?
Yes, it appears to be true that lionfish were first introduced from personal aquaria, although we can’t say whether that was intentional or accidental. For a long time, it was suggested that a lionfish tank at someone’s home near Biscayne Bay was damaged during Hurricane Andrew, thus releasing the lionfish, but we actually have records that indicate lionfish were first seen in 1985 near Dania Point, Florida.
Read the full answer here.

Q- How many lionfish are there today and how was their population able to grow so quickly?
It’s really hard to answer the first part of this, as no one has actually estimated the overall population. That being said, researchers have seen lionfish in incredible abundances throughout their invaded range. For example, at sites in the Bahamas, there are more than 390 lionfish per hectare, which is about five-times as many as would be found in their native range. At deep sites around Bermuda, in the range of 200 feet, technical divers have been able to collect 30 lionfish from an area only as large as a classroom. So overall, it’s hard to guess the population, but I would offer tens of thousands as an incredibly cautious estimate.
Read the full answer here.

Q- Why should we be concerned about this? If nothing is done to keep the lionfish population in check, what will happen?
The invasion of the Indo-Pacific lionfish could rank as the worst environmental catastrophe in the Atlantic this century, if it is continued run uncontrolled. The biggest concern, not to minimize their reproductive success, is their voracious, indiscriminate appetite. They are generalist predators, meaning they will eat anything, and they are opportunistic, meaning they will eat at every opportunity. Taken together, they are non-stop eating machines. In Bermuda, we have seen lionfish with over 30 juvenile fish in their stomachs, but other people have seen twice that. They are known to eat about 70 different species, those important both ecologically and economically, such as fish, shrimp, crabs, and lobsters.
Read the full answer here.

Lionfish Exhibit. Photo credit: Corey Eddy.

Lionfish Exhibit. Photo credit: Corey Eddy.

Q- The Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI) is opening a new Lionfish Exhibit on May 15. What will the exhibit include and will it be open to the public?
The exhibit is intended for a general audience and will be open to the public. The exhibit explains how lionfish were introduced to the Atlantic, why they are a problem, how bad the problem might get, and what people can do about it. It gives information about the fish itself, including a tank with live lionfish that is part of a research project being carried out by Corey Eddy and there is a station where school tours can observe a lionfish being dissected. To lend perspective there are also displays about invasive species in Bermuda and other aquatic invasive species. The exhibit will be accompanied by a series of topical lectures over its five month run.
Read the full answer here.

Q- What do you hope to accomplish by opening this exhibit?
A significant goal is to inform the local population about the lionfish invasion, but it is also hoped that the exhibit will increase awareness of the threat posed by invasive species generally and thus decrease the potential for future introductions.
Read the full answer here.

Q- What can the average, concerned non-scientist do to help?
Anyone that sees a lionfish, whether they’re fishing, diving, snorkeling, or just walking the beach, can report that to the relevant branch of their local government (e.g. Bermuda Department of Environmental Protection or US Fish and Game) or even local dive shop or bait shop. People can also go out and spear lionfish themselves. Perhaps less obvious, people can ask for lionfish at restaurants and markets, wherever they get their seafood. We really need to create a fishery for lionfish, so fishermen can fish them, hopefully too much, and start to minimize their population.
Read the full answer here.

To learn more about lionfish and the new exhibit at BUEI, read the full interview.

The Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute

The Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. She is also a PADI diver and dog lover. .

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