Friday, February 12, 2010

Divers, Fishermen Battle Keys Lionfish Invasion

An unwanted visitor has show up in the Florida Keys and now the locals are trying to figure out the best way to get rid of it or at least minimize the damage it can cause.

The lionfish, native to waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, is a beautiful but highly venomous invasive species that is slowly begun spreading throughout the Florida Keys, wreaking havoc to the fragile reef system.

More than eighty have been documented in the last year from Key Largo to the Dry Tortugas, all have been juveniles. The fish, which can grown to 18 inches has no known predators and is a voracious eater.

When divers and fishermen first spotted the lionfish in the Keys about a year ago, it was pretty much expected, according to CBS4 news partners The Miami Herald. The highly territorial fish was first spotted off Miami in 1985. Since then it has spread throughout the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard.

Marine researches believe the original invaders came from aquariums. Keys environmental groups worry that the lionfish could severely damage their fragile coral reef system. Since lionfish eat just about any kind of juvenile fish at an alarming rate, not only do they decimate the populations of those species but also species like grouper and snapper because they take away their food source. They also eat fish that perform the vital task of cleaning the reef.

Since they have no known predators, marine experts, fishermen, researchers and divers are working together in an effort to stop them from spreading. Divers and fisherman are being urged to report any lionfish they may spot. Specially trained volunteers will then be sent out to try and capture them.

In a rare move the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which oversees Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, has issued permits to trained volunteer dives so they can remove lionfish from the sanctuary's 18 no-take zones.

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