Our Environment

Unwanted Beauty: Lionfish

Even if we love animals and nature, introducing animals/plants in environments they do not belong to does create an environmental issue. The main damage is by consuming native species, competing for food or space and introducing diseases. When an ‘alien’ species arrive to a new location, the habitat lacks natural predators to control the populations and the native species lack the skill to cope with the new species. There are many examples worldwide of invasive species that become pests. One of them is the lion fish in the Caribbean Sea.

Two species of lionfish have successfully invaded the coastal waters of the Atlantic in less than a decade posing a significant threat to reef systems. Lionfish are beautiful-looking creatures with amazing spines; given its attraction as aquarium fauna, it is thought that these species entered the Atlantic when aquaria in the east coast of the U.S. discarded lionfish around 1985 and when an hurricane destroyed another aquarium in Florida in 1992.

Lion fish belong to a group of venomous fish native of the Indo-Pacific Ocean and they range from 5 to 45 cm in the Atlantic. Their success as an invasive species has to do with being hunters, being able to eat many species of small fish and mollusks, reproduce quickly, not having any predators in the Atlantic, and being able to tolerate a huge range of water quality, salinity, temperature and depth.

Many control programs have been working on the eradication or control of these species. Fishing competitions among fishers and divers have been a key to eradicate them at least locally. They seem to be quite tasty too!  So the creation of recipes and cooking competitions to introduce lionfish in the Caribbean cuisine has been just as important. In Quintana Roo, efforts started since 2009 and has joined strategies with Cuba and Colombia. So, if you do want to eat fish in the Caribbean, instead of having groupers or other overharvested fish, try to have a tasty lionfish cocktail. For more information on lionfish, visit www.oceanservice.noaa.gov and search lionfish.


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