Lionfish on the Loose
NOAA Oceanic and Atmospheric Research
NOAA National Ocean Service
United States Geological Survey
Reef Environmental Education Foundation
NARRATOR: Lurking in the waters of the western Atlantic is an unwelcome predator. A predator that is beautiful - yet deadly. A stealthy, ambush predator with poisonous spines, potential prey fall easy victim to the Red Lionfish.
The Lionfish is an invader - far from its home on coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific basin. The mystery of how they got here has slowly unraveled. A showy species for personal aquariums, they were likely dumped off the Florida coast when no longer wanted. Several small releases of Lionfish have led to a population explosion that has increased 1,000 percent in less than 5 years. And they are now found throughout the Caribbean; along the U.S. coast to Long Island, and east to Bermuda.
The warm waters of the Gulf Stream allow lionfish to survive in these areas. Like most invasive species, Lionfish are wreaking havoc in their new habitat. They prey on a wide variety of native species including young, commercially important fish like snapper, grouper, and sea bass. If left unchecked, this could impact local fisheries. Lionfish also compete for the same resources as native fish, which may slowly edge them out and reduce the biodiversity of the ecosystem.
Local eradication efforts may slow the invasion, but there is no way to get rid of them completely. Lionfish in the Atlantic are here to stay.
There is a lesson to be learned. Whether on land or in the water, invasive species put native ones at risk and upset the fragile balance of an ecosystem. By educating the public about Lionfish, marine biologists hope to prevent future invasions.