Lionfish spread along Curacao’s SW shore
This map shows the distribution of lionfish that were either observed or captured along the south-western shore of Curacao around November 2009 (the map below was later added to show the rapid spread of this fish once it established itself and shows the distriution of observed lionfish. at the beginning of 2010. Note that lionfish have spread outside the visualized area and that the second picture only aims to show the increase in lionfish sightings in this area). Unconfirmed reports also mentioned lionfish to be present at Eastpoint, but all confirmed observations come from the western site of the island. The majority of sightings come from dive operators which probably explains the clustering of sightings in the Westpunt and Habitat areas. All lionfish concern small individuals measuring between 4-6 cm except for one individual observed at the dive site “Radio City” which measured 15 cm in length. Reports keep coming in now on almost a daily basis and local Governmental Organizations (VOMIL, LVV) and Carmabi currently work together to put together a strategy to (1) study the effects of lionfish on the reef systems of Curacao and (2) develop effective management scenario’s if necessary. We kindly request all persons that observe a lionfish to report their sightings to either Paul Hoetjes or Mark Vermeij .
In the last several years, members of Dr. Mark Hixon’s lab working at the NURP Caribbean Marine Research Center at Lee Stocking Island (LSI), a field station at the southwestern end of Exuma Sound, Bahamas, have documented increasingly frequent sightings of lionfish. These findings have provided an unprecedented opportunity to study the ecological interactions of lionfish with Caribbean coral reef fish communities from the very beginning of the invasion.
PhD student Mark Albins of Hixon’s team devised a controlled experiment testing the effects of lionfish on native fish communities by documenting the recruitment of newly settled reef fishes on 20 patch reefs near LSI: 10 reefs with a lionfish and 10 reefs without. Fish censuses were conducted at one week intervals for five weeks. Recruitment was significantly lower on lionfish reefs than on control reefs at the end of the experiment. On one occasion, a lionfish was observed consuming 20 small wrasses during a 30 minute period.
It was not unusual to observe lionfish consuming prey up to 2/3 of its own length. Results of the experiment show that lionfish significantly reduce the net recruitment of coral reef fishes by an estimated 80%. The huge reduction in recruitment is due to predation and may eventually result in substantial, negative ecosystem-wide consequences. It is also important to note that lionfish have the potential to act synergistically with other existing stressors, such as climate change, overfishing, and pollution, making this invasion of particular concern for the future of Atlantic coral reefs.
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.
Source: NOAA Research