A staple in underwater photography when found in the Indo-Pacific or the Red Sea, Lion Fish (Pterois) have become the enemy public number one since it invaded the Caribbean seas in the mid 1990′s. Although unclear on how it happened, the introduction of the lion fish in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico is becoming a major issue. Well known for their ornate beauty, venomous spines and unique tentacles, lion fish don’t have many predators and reproduce rather fast. Pterois can live from five to fifteen years.Females release two mucus-filled egg clusters frequently, which can contain as many as fifteen thousand eggs. Lion fish prey on small mollusks and invertebrates in very large quantity. The main problem lies in the small number of predator, only very large groupers,moray eels, some sharks and even sometimes larger lion fish are known to prey on this fish. Studies have proven that invasive Lion fish in the Atlantic are directly linked to coral fish population decline.
The main solution so far has been to hunt them down, several spearfishing competitions are organized monthly around the Caribbean, to kill as many of them as possible. During the Blue Ocean Film Festival this year in Monterey, while attending a lecture from Ocean Doctor on Cuban Reef, the lion fish invasion was mentioned in the Q&A. Prominent ocean scientist and advocate Dr Sylvia Earle mentioned a compelling solution to the issue.
Why is it that we (humans) see in killing and eradicating a specie a solution to most of our invasive species problem? Kill kill kill…is not the solution, Lion Fish have replaced a void created by the loss of apex predators, the best way to protect the ocean reefs is to create more Marine Protected Areas to bring back healthy numbers of predators, that will in turn bring balance back to the reef.
Earth is indeed a self regulating ecosystem. MPA’s are the solution to many of our environmental problems. In this specific case, with the lion fish invasion, it makes sense to look at the big picture, predators will bring back balance, and the Oceans know better than we do on how to regulate themselves. Perhaps all we need to do is to step back.