The lionfish invasion has started, and they are already winning. The venomous fish, characterized for their spiky fin rays and conspicuous warning colorations, are decimating marine life, and with no natural predator, they can quickly wipe out 90 percent of a reef’s population.
Lionfish are not native to the Atlantic Ocean, and marine biologists are frantically attempting to come up with solutions to curb this invasive species' destructive habits, says WebProNews on Oct. 20.
“The lionfish invasion is probably the worst environmental disaster the Atlantic will ever face,” said Graham Maddocks, president and founder of Ocean Support Foundation.
James Morris, an ecologist with the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, agrees, saying the threat of the lionfish in the Atlantic has all the makings of a full blown ecological catastrophe.
Morris said the lionfish brought a “big change in biodiversity,” and called the fish "the most abundant top-level predator on some coral reefs in the Atlantic.”
How did the fish get into the ocean to begin with? Researchers said humans, who likely owned the strange looking fish as pets, dumped them into the sea. DNA evidence traces all lionfish in the Atlantic back to only six to eight female lionfish, which were introduced into the ocean off the coast of Florida.
Once they got in, they spread exponentially. Incredibly, the fish produce 30,000 to 40,000 eggs every few day, and can begin the process of fertilization after only 12 months of life. Lionfish inundate waters of the Amazon, the Bahamas, the Caribbean and along North Carolina’s coastline.
“I don't know if we can stop the lionfish invasion. This isn't a battle we can win, we can only maintain,” Maddocks said. “Human beings started this problem. It is our fault they are here. We have to take responsibility and try to fix or hope we can control it.”
One solution? Eat them.
The popular “Eat ‘em to Beat ‘em” phrase can be seen throughout restaurants and snack shops all along the coastline and in the Caribbean. Oceansupport.org says the lionfish are considered a delicacy and are “high in omega-3s and low in heavy metals, making lionfish a healthy choice. Lionfish are delicious and taste similar to snapper or grouper.”