Species Spotlight: The Invasive Lionfish

Lionfish, lionfish, LIONFISH!

You’ve probably heard about this fish a lot lately…

Maybe you’re wondering, why is there so much hype around this one fish?

What makes this beautiful fish the talk of the dive industry?

More importantly, why are people trying to eradicate them from the Atlantic?

Keep reading for a comprehensive guide to the invasive lionfish.

What is a lionfish?

Meet the Invasive Lionfish.

Scientific name: Pterois volitans

The lionfish is from the Indo-Pacific known as an ornamental aquarium fish in this part of the world.

Their flowy fins and vibrant coloring make them a huge attraction in home aquariums.

Lionfish are carnivorous, meaning they eat other fish as their primary source of nutrients.

Another interesting feature is their venomous spines.

If punctured by one of the spines, the lionfish releases its venom, a defense precaution that is non lethal to humans - just hurts really bad.

Good thing there’s companies out there like ZooKeeper that have created lionfish containment units to house slayed lionfish.

Be aware, these are venomous spines, this does not mean the fish itself is poisonous to eat.

In fact, they are a delicious white, flakey fish and we highly recommend you try it!

Although native to the Indo-Pacific region, they can now be found regularly in Atlantic waters as far north as North Carolina and as far south as the Caribbean.

According to NOAA, juvenile lionfish have been found as far north as Long Island, New York.

NOAA also states that the first reported sighting of a lionfish in South Florida is around 1985.

As a non-native species, lionfish do not have native predators and reproduce rapidly.

This is a deadly combination for the native reef fish population whose numbers have greatly declined due to the invasive lionfish.

Not to mention, these little suckers have voracious appetites.

According to Planting Peace, lionfish can eat reef fish up to twice its size and their stomachs can expand 30 times its normal volume.

Plant Peace goes on to explain that “a single lionfish is capable of consuming 80 percent of the young reef fish on small coral reefs within just five weeks of establishing its territory”...

Pretty mind blowing for a fish whose maximum size is about 15 inches.

So, you might be wondering, how did lionfish end up on this side of the world?

How did lionfish get to South Florida?

There are many theories floating around about how the lionfish got into the Atlantic water.

The truth is that it's probably a combination of theories.

Let’s get into it.

One theory is that when the notorious Hurricane Andrew ripped through Miami in 1992…

It destroyed a big pet/aquarium store that was near a waterway.

Or maybe a couple.

In the destruction, tanks were broken and fish basically were released unintentionally, including non-native fish.

Another theory is the fact that people who own fish tanks have been known to release fish into local waterways when they no longer want to be fish owners.

If you own a fish tank, please never do this.

NOAA reports that these improper releases happened over the course of 25 years.

So the exact theory on how lionfish have made it to this side of the world is unknown, as there are probably a few factors that contributed.

Since lionfish are a non-native species…

Yet they thrive in tropical climates…

Populations began to grow exponentially.

Lionfish have been found at depths of 1-300 feet.

They can survive in various environments such as hard bottom, mangrove, seagrass, coral, and artificial reefs.

Without a native predator to cull the population, the lionfish has reproduced rapidly and is thriving in Atlantic waters.

What is DXDIVERS doing about it?

If you didn’t know, DXDIVERS is all about lionfish education and elimination.

We feel a personal vendetta against lionfish.

Although it’s not their fault they are here, lionfish are wreaking havoc in Atlantic waters.

They’re taking away from our spearfishing and diving opportunities as they decimate reef fish populations.

Not only are lionfish an invasive species, and it’s actually illegal not to kill or report a sighting to FWC, they are super delicious.

Lucky for us, these little killers are easy enough to spot since they sit right on top of reefs here in South Florida, waiting for an unsuspecting reef fish to cruise by.

They’re also relatively easy to eradicate, all you need is a short polespear and your ZooKeeper lionfish containment unit to do your part!

At DXDIVERS, we regularly hold lionfish derbies to inspire other divers to get behind this movement.

Our derbies usually have prizes, but the real win is coming together with the diving community to eliminate as many lionfish as possible.

ZooKeeper is our primary source for all things lionfish eradication.

From their accurate polespears, specifically designed for lionfish, to their sturdy containment units and heat packs for stings, Lionfish ZooKeeper keeps us safe and slaying!

We regularly partner with ZooKeeper for our lionfish derbies, usually giving away ZooKeepers as prizes!

We also offer a PADI specialty course - Invasive Lionfish Tracker - that will teach you all about lionfish and how to remove them from the reef safely.

If you’re apprehensive at all about eradicating lionfish, we highly recommend you check out that course!

It’s even taught by Mr. ZooKeeper himself, Tim!

Come by the shop to see our lionfish aquarium.

The aquarium spurs great conversations about conservation, lionfish, and ecosystem education.

How you can help!

Whether you feel a call to join us and eliminate lionfish from the reefs yourself or not, there’s a lot you can do to help!

First of all, education is key.

Tell people about lionfish, especially not-yet-divers, and explain the damage they’re doing to our ecosystem.

Share this blog post on your socials and send the link to friends if you don’t want to explain it!

Join us for our next lionfish derby Saturday, August 27 for the AM trip on Lady Go Diver!

Learn more about the derby here.

Take the invasive lionfish tracker course to learn more about lionfish and master the art of lionfish eradication.

Let us know in the comments if you ever hunted for lionfish!

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