Non-native Lagoon Triggerfish Removed from Ft. Lauderdale Waters

Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects
(305) 852-0030

Divers in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., live captured a non-native Lagoon Triggerfish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus) last week as part of a collaborative effort between Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, and the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

A Ft. Lauderdale resident first spotted the popular aquarium fish, native to a broad area of the Indo-Pacific, while snorkeling off the beach near Sunrise Blvd. Recognizing the fish was not native to Florida waters, the citizen scientist reported the sighting to REEF and a plan to remove the fish was put into motion. This type of organized non-native species removal is part of an “Early Detection/Rapid Response” plan developed by REEF and the USGS, who have worked together on this initiative since 2008.

The goal of the Early Detection/Rapid Response program is to facilitate rapid and centralized reporting of non-native fishes then develop and initiate removal plans as soon as possible to minimize potential risks to local marine ecosystems. This is the second record of the Lagoon Triggerfish in the United States mainland, and the ninth non-native marine fish species removed through the Early Detection/Rapid Response program. There have been 37 non-native marine fish species documented in Florida’s coastal waters with most thought to be aquarium fish released into the ocean by humans.

“Lagoon Triggerfish, also known as Picasso Triggerfish in the pet industry, are very popular aquarium fish,” explains Andy Dehart, Vice President of Animal Husbandry & Marine Science for the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. “Their beautiful coloration makes them highly desired, but unfortunately, they can be aggressive to their fellow aquarium residents. This can lead to the pet owner releasing the fish, not realizing how bad this can be for the environment.”

A team of six divers from REEF and Frost Science worked for five hours over two days to capture the Lagoon Triggerfish. Triggerfish are able to move their eyes independently, which allows them to constantly be on the lookout for predators. Despite the Lagoon Triggerfish’s elusive nature, the team persevered in their efforts to live capture the fish using a combination of hand and barrier nets.

After undergoing a quarantine period, the fish will be added to the Frost Museum of Science non-native marine species exhibit, which features several other non-native fish removed from South Florida waters, including an Orangespine Unicornfish which was also recently caught through the Early Detection/Rapid Response program.

Anyone who sees a non-native marine fish species is encouraged to submit a report on REEF’s online Exotic Species Sightings Form, which can be accessed at Sightings are then directed to the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species database.

The Lagoon Triggerfish is native to the Indo-Pacific. Photo by Andy Dehart.The Lagoon Triggerfish is native to the Indo-Pacific. Photo by Andy Dehart.The removal team. Photo by Pat Kelly.The removal team. Photo by Pat Kelly.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub