REEF, in collaboration with the University of Virgin Islands and Buck Island National Monument, took a major step last week in a novel study to better understand lionfish movement and factors that may influence that movement. The study, focusing on a 2km area of patch and continuous reef in St Croix, used innovative underwater tagging techniques pioneered by REEF to surgically implant transmitters into invasive lionfish within an array of receivers, allowing the team to pinpoint movement of the fish over the next year.
Working over a 7-day period, a team of volunteer divers searched 39 reef sites, locating 53 lionfish and using hand nets to live capture 50 of them (a 94% success rate!). Once captured, the surgical team of USVI graduate student, Elizabeth Smith, and REEF’s Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, conducted the surgical procedures underwater to insert the acoustic transmitters into the fish and mark them with additional visual tags. Click here to view an 8-minute long segment of Lad Akins and Elizabeth Smith conducting underwater tagging.
A total of 40 fish, averaging just over 20cm in length, were tagged within an array of receivers, allowing the unique signals from each fish to be recorded and triangulated to continuously determine its position. Prior to the tagging event, research teams conducted detailed surveys of the fish communities and other habitat characteristics to determine factors that may influence lionfish movement.
The goals of the program are to better understand lionfish movement and better inform removal and management efforts to reduce lionfish impacts. A total of 11 divers took part in this leg of the project including: Mike Funk, Mareike Duffing-Romero, Lad Akins, Richard Nemeth, Elizabeth Smith, Norm Gustafson, Kim Gillespie, Jack Downes, Gabby Magalski, Bonnie Barnes, Marcia Taylor, Bernard Castillo, and Kynoch Reale-Munroe. Funding for this work was provided by a grant through the EPSCOR program of the University of the Virgin Islands and housing support was generously provided by REEF members Bill Scurry and Janice Erlbaum.