Environmental Insights: Lionfish

Take a closer look at the world around you and understand how it's connected through our Environmental Insights series.

Written by: ELC Junior Interpreter, Annabella Casares

One of the biggest threats to our waterways is a little bigger than the size of a ruler.  You may have guessed it- a lionfish. The lionfish is an invader to our local waterways, growing in population over the past 35 years. The first one was spotted off of Dania Beach, Florida in 1985.

Lionfish are an invasive species because they are not native. Emily Dark of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a theory of how they got here.  “The most likely mode of introduction to our waters,” said Dark, “was through the aquarium trade. Lionfish are very popular fish tank fish and people likely threw them out when they didn’t want them anymore.”

Bob Hickerson of Team Frapper, an organization that helps educate divers and the general public about lionfish, explained why these fish are so successful. “They can eat almost anything without being eaten themselves,” he said, “Also, local predators don’t see them as prey because they are not a resident species,”

There is little to no evidence of natural predation except a few people’s sightings of grouper eating them. Lionfish now compete with other species like snapper and grouper, because of their shared habits and diets. This disrupts the natural order in our ecosystem.

Lionfish have amazing adaptability to various conditions and reproduce rapidly. Hickerson says, “In ideal conditions, an adult female can release from 30,000 to 90,000 eggs every four days, all year long.”

This speedy reproduction cycle makes the problem worse quickly. When an invasive species like lionfish dominate one of our waterways, there are many serious consequences. First of all, a large number of lionfish damage our coral reefs. Next, they change the biodiversity of our habitat and threaten the native populations with extinction.

“They have amazing adaptability to various conditions and reproduce rapidly”, Hickerson said. 

Although many people think lionfish are poisonous they are not. They are venomous, which means they can only harm you if their venom goes into your bloodstream. The sting of a lionfish will not kill a human but, it will cause pain and swelling. Oddly enough they are harmless when eaten.

You may wonder what is being done to handle the lionfish problem.  One way you can help the cause to clear our oceans of these animals is by hunting them since they have no natural predators. There are programs where for every fish you catch you get a dollar. Other groups have set up lionfish catching tournaments. This helps spread awareness in a fun and educational way.  Even if you don’t like hunting you can still help the cause by eating them. Lionfish are good fish to eat. Some seafood markets and even grocery stores have started to sell lionfish to help clear them out of our oceans.

Many Floridians take our waterways for granted. We have gotten used to the beauty and have forgotten the natural balance in nature. If we want to keep this natural beauty we need to help take care of it. We must take care of species like the lionfish.

The ELC Junior Interpreter program is designed for 6th-8th graders who are passionate about the environment and interested in developing their communication skills to advocate for our natural resources.

Last year, with support from Tyler Treadway of the TC Palm, the Junior Interpreters wrote newspaper articles highlighting areas of concern in our local environment. Although only a few of them were officially selected for publication, we are excited to release their hard work through our Environmental Insights series.

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