Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Divers needed to help with Lionfish invasion!

While at the DEMA convention I attended the Lionfish informational seminar hosted on by REEF.  I knew there was a Lionfish invasion occurring in the Caribbean and that the Lionfish were venomous but I truly didn't know much more than that and now I feel better informed and very motivated to help.  My goal for this article is to motivate you into helping also.
First off, let me share with you what I learned about the Lionfish invasion.  In the 1980’s two different (but almost identical) species of lionfish were introduced into the Atlantic Ocean.  This is not the native area for Lionfish and there is still speculation as to how they arrived.  REEF’s studies suggest that the US aquarium trade is somehow responsible, but it may be as simple as an aquarium owner deciding to set his/her Lionfish free into the Atlantic – we may never know.
Nonetheless, the Lionfish are here and they are multiplying at alarming rates.  The main reason for this massive increase is that the Lionfish in the Atlantic Ocean do not have any predators.  The natural predators in this area do not appear to like the taste of these fish or the taste of the gelatinous substance that covers their egg sack.  Researchers have gone as far as putting single predators in a large tanks and starving them for 3 days.  On that 3rd day they put a baby (tiny) Lionfish into the tank and the predators swim to the other side of the tank!  Researchers are astounded!  So naturally, since the Lionfish doesn’t have any predators they are continually multiplying.  Did I mention that the female Lionfish begins to reproduce before she is one year old and then she can lay up to two million eggs per year – she can reproduce every 4 days!
Ok, so the Lionfish is reproducing, “So what?” you may ask but here lays the worst part of the Lionfish invasion.  The Lionfish are GLUTONOUS FEEDERS - they eat anything and everything they see.  They are eating about 56 different species of fish within the Atlantic Ocean and this is where it affects everyone – the fish they are eating are needed to keep the coral reefs clean, as food for other fish, and they are also the fish that you and I like to eat!  If the Lionfish is allowed to consume this enormous amount of fish, it will change the entire ecosystem in the Caribbean!
This is where you, the diver, comes into the picture.  NOAA, REEF, and USGS are large organizations that are trying to control this Lionfish invasion, but they need your help.   As I mentioned, the Lionfish possess venomous spines that are capable of causing humans great pain so the first step for all divers is to be aware and get educated about the Lionfish invasionThe easiest thing you can do to help is fill out the Lionfish Sighting Form at REEF when you sight a Lionfish on your dive. This will help them monitor the location for the Lionfish.  The next step is to become trained in capturing Lionfish. Many dive shops are now offering this training and some islands are even going to allow you to go spear-fishing for Lionfish (check with me or the island’s tourist board before you attempt this).  The third step is to attend an organized Lionfish Catching Contest/Trip.  Not only to you get to enjoy your favorite sport, but you also get to be a part of the solution.  Think of it as a “treasure hunt” in the ocean!  But you must get trained first because you cannot help anyone if you do not know how to safely handle a Lionfish.There is a fee to enter these trips but then there is also a PRIZE for the person who captures the most Lionfish. You could help and be a winner!
There are two upcoming Lionfish Control Study/Dive Trips coming up that you may want to participate in:
May 7-14 in Belize
June 12-19 in Bahamas
Please contact me for further details regarding these trips.
As history has showed us, we are capable of eliminating an entire species if we try so let’s work together and wipe out these invasive Lionfish from our Caribbean waters so we can continue to enjoy diving and our children and grandchildren will be able to do the same.

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