Lionfish Letters from the Field

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A lionfish sighted in the Exuma Cays and reported through REEF's Exotic Species Sighting Program. Photo by Sean Nightingale.
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Volunteer divers assisted with lionfish research in the Bahamas in May 2008.
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Magnificent to look at, but devastating to the local ecosystem, lionfish like this one are seen throughout the Bahamas. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

Nassau, Bahamas - July 30, 2008 -- Up early this morning and readying for another big day on the lionfish front.  As part of an Associated Press story on the lionfish, I am joined by Andy Dehart and Lisa Mitchell here in Nassau to shoot footage of our lionfish work and do interviews for an AP television segment.  We'll be live collecting fish, tagging a few and talking about the current research being conducted by REEF, NOAA, Simon Fraser University and Oregon State University - research showing that the lionfish appear to  be having severe impacts on our native fish populations.  To summarize, stomach contents show over 50 species of prey items including fish and invertebrates; lionfish are eating the prey faster than they can naturally recover and they can reduce recruitment of juveniles to reefs by 80%!  It is a scary picture.

While the research efforts are being conducted to better understand lionfish and their impacts, REEF is also leading the way in working on control.  Our recent workshop in Florida paved the way for early detection/rapid response in South Florida and will serve as a model for the rest of the Caribbean.  Tagging studies, removal (culling) efforts, activity and movement documentation, trap design and other control measures are being implemented to direct our efforts both in the US and Bahamas where the fish are established as well as in downstream countries in the path of the invasion. REEF's next project will take place September 14-20 at Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas in Nassau with a few spaces left. (Call Pam Christman at 800-879-9832 to participate).  

If you see a lionfish, or any other non-native fish, please be sure to report your sightings to the REEF website.

In addition to using your sightings to direct research and rapid response on non-native species in coastal areas, REEF provides data to our partners at the US Geological Survey (USGS). REEF recently contributed a significant number of records to the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. These records included information submitted by volunteers through the REEF Exotic Species Sighting Program, and included 311 records of lionfish sightings from approximately 160 sites along the US East Coast, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, as well as information on 29 other fish species from 54 locations (mostly in South Florida). Approximately half of the species were new records for the USGS NAS database. The lionfish data contributed to the generation of an on-line display of current lionfish distribution.

If you have questions about the lionfish or other non-native species, feel free to give me a call or send an e-mail.  We are also looking for funding for these critically important programs and any ideas or contributions are welcome.  Look for the AP coverage early next week!

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub