Text by Alyson Sheppard; Photograph: Wolcott Henry, National Geographic Animals
Populations of lionfish, a football-size predatory fish native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, are exploding in coral reefs in the Bahamas, threatening to destroy native fish schools and the local snorkeling, diving, and kayaking businesses.
“With the quantities of lionfish that we’ve found in our waters and the amount of food they consume, it has the potential of really collapsing our commercially important species—our fishing industry in general,” Lakeshia Anderson with the Bahamas Department of Fisheries told NPR. Lionfish can reportedly kill “three-quarters of a reef’s fish population in just five weeks.”
Originally, only about six of the fish escaped into the Gulf of Mexico in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew destroyed an aquarium in Florida. Since then, lionfish have been slowly dispersing into the Caribbean, and are now targeting the Bahamas, because they have no natural predators in the area.
“In 2005, the first lionfish showed up, and we didn’t pay much attention to it,” local reef fish researcher Mark Hixon told NPR. “The next year, we saw a few more. Then in 2007 there was a population explosion. There were so many lionfish around that they were eating the fish we were studying, and we had to start studying the lionfish. There was nothing else to do.”
Scientists suggest that Bahamians begin hunting and eating lionfish in large quantities until the ecosystem has time to adapt and balance out the fish populations.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Read the NPR story here.
Read the NOAA account here.
Watch an animated map of the invasion from the USGS here.