The Caribbean lionfish project

 

Invasive lionfish which naturally live in the Indo-Pacific region are seriously threatening the coral reefs and marine biodiversity of many of the Caribbean Overseas Territories and other Caribbean Nations.  It is believed the lionfish arrived with hurricanes or escaped when ships’ ballast tanks were emptied during the early 1990s.  Other theories include accidental release by local aquariums or hobbyists. Now they have been spotted as far north as Rhode Island, along the eastern seaboard and as far south as Colombia. 

 

With few known natural predators, the lionfish poses a major threat to coral reefs in the Caribbean by significantly reducing juvenile populations of  a wide range of native reef fish e.g. cardinal, parrotfish and damselfish.  Native grouper fish prey on lionfish, but they have been overfished and are unlikely to significantly reduce the effects of invasive lionfish on coral reef communities.

 

While completely eradicating lionfish does not seem realistic, affected countries are being encouraged to start control efforts for lionfish as soon as possible, including targeted fishing for them.  Lionfish flesh is tasty and cooking denatures the venom in the fish spines. Recovering healthy populations of native predators which eat lionfish, such as sharks and large grouper, may also help reduce the ecological impacts of these voracious invasive predators.

 

The three Overseas Territories of the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands and the British Virgin Islands will use £60,000 of funding provided to focus and develop efforts to monitor and control lionfish.  Anguilla will also use some of its own funding to combat the lionfish threat.  The project will try to minimise the destructive impacts of the invasive lionfish by controlling the size and spread of the infestation.

 

By focussing on awareness-raising the project hopes to gain additional support from the public as people understand the control actions being undertaken, report any lionfish sightings and even become involved as volunteers.

 

Caribbean Hub cross-territories lionfish monitoring, eradication and awareness-raising

JNCC is working with the Cayman Islands to develop the concept and mechanisms for a regional Caribbean Overseas Territories hub. The regional lionfish project will be a first step to demonstrate how a regional approach to conservation management works in practice, sharing skills, knowledge and expertise across-territories.

 

Lionfish project in the Cayman Islands:

In the Cayman Islands, the regional lionfish project will monitor the biomass of reef fish to find out how healthy the populations are and estimate the balance of invasive and natural species.  It will assess how effective the control efforts are, develop and use a rapid response protocol for reports on lionfish sightings, raise public awareness and train volunteers.

 

Lionfish project on Turks and Caicos Islands

In the Turks and Caicos Islands, the lionfish project will focus on public awareness and developing relationships to control the lionfish. It will work with restaurants to put lionfish on the menu, creating an economic demand for capturing the invasive species, collect data on species locations and population sizes, and host a public ‘lionfish tournament’ to catch them and inform the public.

 

Lionfish project on the British Virgin Islands

Activities under the lionfish project in the British Virgin Islands will include training staff in various organisations in the biology, behavior, capture and control of lionfish, and initiatives on public awareness and information.

 

Contact:

Nikki Chapman

Ot & CD Resources & Marine Advice

Tel: +44(0) 1733 866924

Email: