As many of you are aware, the recent invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish into Atlantic waters has been causing great concern among researchers, marine park and fisheries managers, and divers. REEF, in partnership with Bahamian dive operators Stuart Cove and Bruce Purdy, NOAA, the USGS, the National Aquarium in Washington DC, the Bahamian Government and university groups, has spearheaded the field research for this rapidly expanding problem.
Our most recent field project at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in May 2008, involving over 20 volunteers and researchers, found that the problem continues to get worse. The team gathered data on nearly 200 specimens of lionfish to determine relative abundance, size increases, reproductive status, growth rates, predator prey relationships and movement. To wit:
- Lionfish continue to grow in size: Tagging data are showing growth rates exceeding 190mm/year. This is far larger than necessary to reach sexual maturity.
- Site Fidelity: All 12 tagged specimens that have been recaptured indicated strong site fidelity even after 6 months.
- Prey: Lionfish continue to amaze us during our stomach content studies. This May effort turned up new records including two entire spotted goatfish, a large brown chromis, a small reef octopus, and even a small mollusk in its shell. The lionfish are eating nearly anything that will fit into their mouths.
- Reproduction: Lionfish reproduction continues to occur throughout the year – we found many gravid females and a small recently settled juvenile.
To date, dive operators and the contributions of participating volunteers have funded the bulk of this work. REEF’s future field-work will concentrate on lionfish movement, trap design, habitat preference, and local control measures. Our next project is scheduled to take place at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas in Nassau from September 14-20. If you would like to help with our ongoing work please consider joining us as a field volunteer and/or making a contribution to REEF’s Exotic Species Program. For additional information, please contact Lad Akins at (305) 852-0030 x-2# or e-mail Lad@reef.org