The Lion of the Sea - The Lion fish

By Diana V.M.

Introducing the lion fish...

Perhaps sometime in the future, you may go fishing, snorkeling, or even SCUBA diving in and around our beautiful Caribbean seascape. It is possible that during one of these activities, you may encounter a creature which you never encountered before.

It is a beautiful fish, ranging in size from about 6 to 14 inches long, with distinctive reddish- brown and white vertical stripes that strongly resemble the patterning on a zebra. The fish is usually seen hovering around coral reefs and near rocks and crevices near the shore and further out at sea. But do not be fooled by its beauty. This fish has highly venomous fin spines that can produce extremely painful puncture wounds on its victim. The animal of which we speak has a name that lends to its highly predatory nature, as it is well-known for consuming many other organisms living in the oceans. This fish is the Lionfish (Pterois volitans), and it may be soon coming to the seas near you.

Lionfish are native to the Pacific, and therefore not native to the Caribbean region. However, because of the aquarium trade in Florida and their release from these aquariums during previous hurricane events, these animals have been sighted throughout the entire Caribbean - in Florida, the Bahamas, Bonaire, and even Venezuela. Therefore, it is only a matter of time before the Lionfish invades your island’s waters, if it hasn’t already done so!!

Lion fish

Lion fish are voracious predators that will eat native species of fish and crustaceans in large quantities. They are equipped with venomous dorsal ventral and anal spines which they use to maim their attackers, including humans. These fish have a high reproductive rate all year round, and it is expected that their numbers in the wild can become quite large if uncontrolled, as they are not known to have any natural predators. Lion fish grow at a fast rate and are able to outgrow other native species with whom they compete for size and space.

Non-native marine fishes such as the Lionfish can pose a major threat to marine fisheries, habitats and eco-system function across the Caribbean. Increased reports of non-native species and the successful invasion of lion fish in Atlantic waters have proven the need for early warning and rapid response to confirmed sightings. Therefore if you do spot the lionfish on one of your outings, DO NOT TOUCH IT! If you must handle the fish to remove it from your hook or net, it is recommended that a gaff be used or a thick pair of gloves. If you happen to be stung by the lionfish, immediately immerse the wound in water as hot as you can tolerate for fifteen minutes and seek medical attention.

Most importantly, if you encounter this creature, whether in your country or not, please contact your local Marine Affairs Department immediately and provide the respondents with the information that they need to aid in combating the spread of this beautiful stranger.

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