Lionfish And Their Impact On Coral Reefs Research at Almond Beach Resort
Overview of the Project
Lionfish (Pterois volitans) are top-level predators among the coral reefs and rocky shores of the Indo-Pacific. Their accidental introduction into the Atlantic in 1985 set the stage for an ecological disaster on a scale that the Caribbean has never seen before. The lack of native predators and the 18 venomous spines used for defense make lionfish a significant threat to the ecological stability of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. With females producing up to 2 million eggs per year they can quickly overtake the entire barrier reef. They have the potential to collapse commercial fisheries of economically important species like grouper and snapper. Their destructive nature may also diminish the aesthetic beauty of the coral reef ecosystem as they overconsume the fish on the reef that controls algae growth.
Lionfish are collected by spearing the fish while snorkeling or scuba diving. When lionfish are collected, the location of the snorkel or dive site is noted. Once the boat returns to shore additional data is collected. The fish mass, snout to tail length, mouth gap and stomach contents are recorded. This information will help researchers understand the lionfish population size as well as the potential environmental impact that they are having upon the southern portion of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.
What We Have Learned
During the 3 days of snorkeling and diving, the Inspire EdVentures team collected a total of 46 lionfish. Their body length ranged from as small as 15.5 mm to as large as 32.9 mm with body mass ranging between 30 to 630 grams. Stomach contents were also analyzed with partially digested food being present in 100% of the fish. 22% of the fish contained identifiable stomach contents with shrimp being the most common, followed by squirrel fish, wrasse and damsel fish. One fish of the fish harvested was also carrying eggs.
Lionfish have the potential to remove up to 90% of the native species on the reef. The presence of wrasse and damsel fish in the stomach of the lionfish indicates that they are reducing the herbivorous fish from the reef environment. The removal of too many of these types of fish will lead to an increase in algae growth upon the reef. The algae can then outcompete the corals for space and sunlight, further stressing the health of the coral reef.
A female lionfish can breed every four days and produce up to 2 million eggs per year. The removal of the female lionfish with eggs means that there will be 2 million fewer lionfish eggs released into the waters of the Caribbean. If only 1% of the eggs survived there would be an additional 10,000 lionfish destroying the Caribbean reef ecosystem.
Every lionfish that is removed from the Caribbean helps provide a small amount of relief to the reef. With climate change, pollution and a whole host of additional stressors impacting the coral reef, every little thing a person does to help the reef will make a difference.
To learn more about how you can help make a difference join us on our next EdVenture to Belize to explore the coral reefs and hunt lionfish.
How You Can Become Involved
- Enroll in an Inspire EdVenture lionfish hunting trip to Belize
- Coordinate a group trip to Belize to hunt lionfish
- Participate in a lionfish hunt with Almond Beach
- Sponsor a student who will be part of a lionfish hunt in Belize
- Ask for lionfish at a restaurant that serves seafood
- Buy lionfish jewelry to promote additional harvesting of lionfish
Want to Take an Edventure or have additional questions? Please use the form below to contact us.
last updated February 11, 2019