Lionfish have long been known to bring beauty and wonder to aquariums worldwide, but now they are becoming one of the biggest threats to reefs in the Atlantic as invasive species. According to Blue Ventures Conservation, lionfish are having a huge impact in places like Belize, where they are destroying the coral ecosystems and reef fish because they have no known predators. Thus, the population of this venomous fish is skyrocketing. As stated by PLOS, Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois Volitans and P. Miles) are spreading rapidly across the Western Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and rapidly declining the populations of their prey species. It is thought that these lionfish are being dumped by aquarium owners and taking over areas in the Atlantic, as mentioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Lionfish, also known as zebrafish, turkeyfish and firefish, are native to the Indo-Pacific and are recognized by their bright red, black and white bands, and venomous spines on their fin rays. They prey on small fish, invertebrates and mollusks. An article on the Oregon State University website states that they have very few natural predators because of their venomous spines, which is why they are such a big threat as an invasive species. In favorable conditions, female lionfish can lay eggs every four days and can lay up to 2 million eggs per year, according to Lionfish.co. Lionfish venom can be very toxic to humans, causing difficulty breathing, paralysis, nausea and even death.
Lionfish are increasing in population and are having a major effect on the creature food webs in their non-native waters. Lionfish are taking over coral reefs and causing many native fish to leave their areas for less desirable places. According to the second edition of Micronesian Reef Fishes by R.F. Myers (sourced by Wikipedia), they could be decreasing Atlantic reef diversity by as much as 80 percent and are thriving in the nutrient-rich waters. The increasing lionfish population has caused people to organize hunts for the fish to control the population, as well campaigns to encourage eating the fish to decrease their numbers. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration introduced the “Eat Lionfish” campaign to encourage people to cook the fish and for restaurants to put it on their menus. Invasive species have huge effects on marine biodiversity, reef communities and food webs, and are capable of causing many native plants and animals to become extinct, as stated in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. It is because of humans that these lionfish have become a threatening species and it is up to us to reduce the problem. Take action by never dumping aquarium fish back into the ocean, as well as helping to keep our oceans clean from litter and plastics to protect marine life everywhere.
Photos by S. Schmidt