Red Fan Coral and Orange Finger Sponge
Red Fan Coral and Orange Finger Sponge
Remora News & Events

Features

March 3, 2015


What is as graceful and beautiful as a butterfly,
as ferocious as the most dangerous predator, and
delivers a painful sting with its venomous spines?

A lionfish swims near the seafloor at the Savannah Snapper Banks

A lionfish swims near the seafloor at the Savannah Snapper Banks.
Photo: GRNMS

Lionfish have become a threat to the marine animals and habitats of the Atlantic Ocean. Native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean and introduced into the Atlantic, lionfish have no natural predators on the east coast and are able to grow and multiply quickly. Eating but not being eaten ultimately threatens the ecosystems by destroying the food chain.

It is believed that lionfish may have been released from aquariums in the late 1980s. They are now found in many habitats including mangroves, seagrass beds, reefs, and in areas of rocky seafloor, and in waters as deep as 600 feet.

Known for their red and white vertical stripes and fanlike pectoral fins, lionfish are easy to identify. But be careful when handling lionfish as their dorsal, pelvic, and anal fins have venomous spines that will cause extreme pain in humans.

Identifying the spines of a lionfish

Identifying the spines of a lionfish.
Photo: NOAA

Lionfish are voracious carnivores that eat fish and invertebrates. They are able to eat prey up to half their body size and they consume fish at an unsustainable rate. Lionfish have become one of the top predators of many reefs in the Atlantic because they are avoided by native predators. With a life span of about 15 years and the ability to reproduce every 4 days, numbers of lionfish grow at an astounding rate. By threatening ecosystems by eating native fish, they may negatively impact commercial fishing and tourism.

NOAA diver Michelle Johnson with a lionfish caught and stowed in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

NOAA diver Michelle Johnson with a lionfish caught and stowed in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.
Photo: Ryan Ekert

Huge efforts have been put into the control and management of lionfish in the Atlantic Ocean. In Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, our NOAA divers are responsible for surveying and removing lionfish. Lionfish are caught with permitted pole spears and stowed using caution to avoid the spines. Once on the ship, they are measured and weighed and the location they were found is recorded. Preserved lionfish are then sent to a NOAA laboratory for further studies to be conducted to gain a better understanding of these beautiful but harmful animals.

A lionfish swims near the seafloor in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary

A lionfish swims near the seafloor in Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary.
Photo: GRNMS

Recommendation: If you catch a lionfish be extremely careful, do not come in contact with the dorsal, anal, or pelvic spines. If fish must be handled, thick gloves are recommended. Please do not throw lionfish back into the water!

Please visit NOAA's Ocean Service Education website to learn more about The Lionfish Invasion!


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