Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Lionfish is probably here in Antigua already.

From island to island all the way from Florida along the West Indian archipelago the Pacific Lionfish has migrated up current. The story is that this very dangerous alien species first first got into the waters off Florida during the disastrous Hurricane Andrew back in 1992. I don't think there were many people who thought we would see them here. Just over a week ago The Nature Foundation St. Maarten reported that a specimen had been spotted on a wreck very close to shore.
Why is this terrible news and why do i describe them as "very dangerous"?
I describe them as dangerous for several reasons. The lesser evil is that they have a very painful sting. According to the Nature Foundation speaking about the fish that was spotted there:

If you do happen to catch it please be VERY careful; all of the spines on the caudal, pectoral, anal and dorsal fins are venomous and can cause an EXTREMELY painful and dangerous sting. First aid treatment is immersion in hot water, as hot as the victim can take. Advise your divers about this as well.
It is important that if you do catch it the specimen be delivered to or picked up by the Nature Foundation as we need to do tissue sampling and send it off to NOAA in the States, we need to analyze the stomach contents to figure out what its been eating, and we need to positively i.d the subspecies (P.miles or P.volitans). All of this info will help us control the invasion better.
The sting you get from touching one is pretty bad, but another more sinister evil is how quickly they reproduce and take over habitats in the Caribbean. These fish are not natural to this area at all and have almost no predators. They on the other hand, prey on anything that swims near them. A Jamaican fisheries officer told me that when they arrive on a reef, they quickly kill all of the other fish on the reef. He says that before long the Lions are the only fish on the reef. This type of invasive species is the most dangerous one as it destroys the ecosystem's food chain and ultimately the system itself. After writing these words I googled a bit to see if i could find some good articles to back this up. The Guardian out of the UK printed this article yesterday: Read Here.

Unless there is some very weird miracle, the lionfish will be spotted in Antigua and Barbuda very soon as it continues to spread like a plague down towards South America.
All Doom and Gloom? Well, there isn't much positive to say about this story, but I can only say that this is once again another reason among the many that i have already written about that the Fisheries Department of Antigua and Barbuda need to start working on protection of key species of fish. Groupers are one of the only predators of lionfish, and we naturally had a very healthy population of groupers until very recently. Overfishing and the total lack of proper fisheries management has lead to some species of grouper becoming extinct here and all of the rest of the shallow water reef species severely endangered. If the North East Marine Management Area gets started with a proper board and a proper manager, groupers and all other species of reef fish will make a rapid comeback. We will then start to see other large predators out on the reefs including the green moray eels and sharks that were so common up until the 1990s. The NEMMA and other carefully managed marine parks may be the key to preventing the total destruction of our marine habitats. Lionfish are killed by groupers, but without groupers the lionfish will takeover. Have a read of this interesting report on lionfish in other areas of the West Indies. Click here. This is a section from that article:
While complete eradication does not seem realistic, affected nations are encouraged to initiate targeted lionfish control efforts as soon as possible, including targeted fisheries (lionfish flesh is tasty and cooking denatures the spine venom). Efforts to reduce densities of lionfish at key locations may help to lessen their ecological impacts. Recovering and maintaining healthy populations of potential native predators of lionfish, such as large grouper and sharks, may also help reduce the deleterious effects of these voracious invasive predators.

 History repeats itself unless you learn from it.