The first time I saw a lionfish was in Egypt. It was absolutely one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen underwater. The majestic “mane” of this fish was stunning as I swam up to the lionfish. It wasn’t until years later I heard anything again about the lionfish. But this time the fish was nothing short of a hideous menace destroying the Caribbean reef.
I quickly understood the danger of these fish to their non-native habitat and supported the efforts to get them out of the Caribbean. (This is a big deal since I am a vegetarian who doesn’t eat any fish or sea life at all.)
In case you don’t know about lionfish here are some quick facts:
- Lionfish reproduce at a rate of about 2 million eggs per year. Their larvae have a much higher survival rate than other sea life.
- Lionfish eat anything and everything. They even eat the small cleaner fish nothing else eats.
- Outside of their native Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Southern & Western Pacific Ocean they have no predators.
- Because of the amount of fish life they are consuming the reefs are dying, fisherman are in danger of not having fish to catch, turtles and other creatures who need to be cleaned in order to survive are losing their cleaners to the apetite of the lionfish.
- They are threatening the diving industry, fishing industry, tourism industry, and diets of the people in the Caribbean, the U.S., South America, Central America and now the Mediteranean sea by eating the fish life which sustain these industries.
- They can survive for up to 3 months without food and only lose 10% of their body mass. They can also live for up to 15 years, all the while consuming massive amounts of fish life.
- Invasive lionfish are out-breeding, out-competing and out-living native fish stocks and other marine species. The consequences impact the food security and economies affecting over a hundred million people, according to this incredibly informative blog.
- Lionfish are now eating so much they are developing liver disease. Info from this site.
- Lionfish are now even eating themselves according to this site.
- Lionfish have venomous spines which have been said to make grown men cry when they are “stung”.
We have been hearing a lot about divers hunting these fish on our different dive trips. My husband has been desperate to go on one of these hunting trips. So when we found out Utopia Village is hunting lionfish to help decrease the poplulation he couldn’t wait to see how it is done.
For me it was a very mixed experience. I was not happy to see a living creature killed but by the same token I know the harm they are doing and at the end of the day they must be eradicated if there is much hope for the reef, the fish life, and the humans which depend on the reef and fish for survival.
We saw about 18 lionfish killed in 3 days, one even fed to a shark as we watched. The amazing chef at Utopia Village made lionfish ceviche which every meat eater raved about. (Evidently it is a delicious fish, and it has a really high Omega-3 count so it is really healthy too.)
Underwater watching the spears come out, and pierce these beautiful fish was hard for me. It was so abrupt and forceful. I watched them men change as they watched the dive master kill. There was cheering and celebration through our masks at they collected the fish, forced them into the PVC tubing and carry them to shore. I focused on the beauty surrounding me as a reminder of why this was so important. However, once we were on the boat and I saw these fish, and was reminded of the destruction I was quite proud of what tiny little bit we had done that day to make a difference in Utila.