A New Wave of Exotic Lionfish Invades Biscayne National Park
Contact: Vanessa McDonough, 305-230-1144, x027
Almost exactly a year after the first Indo-Pacific lionfish was discovered and removed from Biscayne National Park, over 40 additional fish have been reported and removed in the past two weeks. Lionfish are invasive, exotic animals with few natural predators in Atlantic waters (other than humans, who find them a tasty meal) that feed voraciously on native fish, especially members of the snapper and grouper families. Most of the fish discovered recently are fairly small in size, between 2 and 5 inches. Biologists believe this is an indication that the invasion is in its early stages, with young fish being swept in with currents from the south, where populations are more established.
After the initial lionfish sighting in June, 2009, new reports were rare and sporadic. The recent National Geographic BioBlitz, a 24-hour species count involving hundreds of citizen scientists documenting plants and animals in the park, failed to turn up a single lionfish, despite expectations that many might be found. These recent sightings have occurred in many parts of the park in addition to reef areas, including wrecks, seagrass beds, hardbottom communities and around dock pilings. As many as 17 fish have been removed from a single site.
“It is unlikely that we will be able to completely eliminate lionfish from Biscayne National Park,” said Dr. Vanessa McDonough, the park’s Fishery and Wildlife Biologist. “We do hope, though, that we can keep on top of this invasion and circumvent the issues associated with other South Florida exotic species invasions like pythons and iguanas.”
The park is calling on the park’s users to assist with the effort by capturing and reporting any lionfish they encounter while enjoying the park. The mane-like assemblage of spines that give the fish its lion-like appearance are tipped in poison that can cause severe pain, swelling, nausea, headaches and convulsions. If a visitor cannot safely remove the fish themselves, they are encouraged to note its location as precisely as possible (including GPS coordinates) and report the sighting to the park as soon as possible. Lionfish are quite territorial, and will remain in the same area for extended periods. They are also generally unafraid of divers, which makes them fairly easy to capture. Sightings can be reported by calling the park’s Visitor Center at 305-230-7275, x000, or Vanessa McDonough at 305-230-1144, x027.
For further information about the Indo-Pacific Lionfish in Biscayne National Park, including photographs, visit http://www.nps.gov/bisc/naturescience/exotic-lionfish.htm.