Lionfish Grow Into Hungry Atlantic Predators After Florida Release

Image: Lionfish Grow Into Hungry Atlantic Predators After Florida Release

Monday, 15 Jul 2013 07:33 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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Lionfish, a colorful but venomous striped creature indigenous to the Asian Pacific, is gobbling up prey at a record pace in the deep Atlantic Ocean and drawing the concern of scientists.

Researchers found large populations of lionfish living in water 300 feet deep in the Atlantic during an expedition last month, the Christian Science Monitor reported  That's bad news for deep water native fish smaller than the lionfish, Stephanie Green, a post-doctoral associate at Oregon State University Hixon Lab.

Green told the Christian Science Monitor that past studies have shown that some 40 species of fish dropped in number when the lionfish arrived in shallow Atlantic waters.

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"This data has confirmed for us that we have a problem there," the Christian Science Monitor quoted Green, who is leading a project on the lionfish's effects in the deeper Atlantic. "This is the first time we’ve had a look at what the problem is in deep depths – it’s the next frontier in this study."

According to the Hixon lab website, a 2007 study on the ecology of coral reef life in the Bahamas funded by the National Science Foundation found the lionfish were especially deadly to its neighbors.

"Our first field experiment . . . demonstrated that a single lionfish can reduce recruitment of native fishes on a small coral patch reef by about 80 percent in just five weeks," the Hixon Lab website said of its 2007 study. "To the extent that such effects are typical, this could very well become the most disastrous marine invasion in history." (http://hixon.science.oregonstate.edu/content/highlight-lionfish-invasion)

Researchers believe the lionfish were released into the Atlantic Ocean by aquariums near southern Florida in the 1980s, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Since then the crafty fish with venomous spines have evaded mass capture to rein them in.

"Genetic work has showed that the whole invasion began from a few releases,” Green told the Christian Science Monitor.

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Organizations like the Reef Environmental Education Fund have tried to recruit the help of hungry humans to stem the tide of voracious fish with a lionfish cookbook, with the theme "Eat'em to beat 'em."

Green told the Christian Science Monitor that scientists are worried, though, the lionfish will be harder to remove the deeper the fish move into Atlantic.

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