Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef Expedition 2014
Mission Information
 

Wednesday: April 23, 2014
Log Day 4

Amy Rath
Outreach and Communications Coordinator
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Jamie Morris
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Miami Palmetto Senior High, Miami, FL

Lionfish have become a threat to marine animals and habitats of the Atlantic Ocean. Native to the Indo-Pacific Ocean and introduced into the Atlantic, lionfish have few natural predators and are able to grow and multiply quickly without natural controls. Eating, but not being eaten, ultimately threatens the ecosystems by destroying the food chain.

Lionfish Anatomy.

Lionfish Anatomy.
(Photo: NOAA)

It is believed that lionfish in the Atlantic come from releases by aquarium keepers. 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 fin, 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.

Lionfish.

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, they may negatively impact commercial fishing and tourism.

Greg McFall holds lionfish captured in Gray's Reef.

Greg McFall holds lionfish captured in Gray's Reef.
(Photo: Duane Harris)

Huge efforts have been put into the control and management of lionfish in the Atlantic Ocean. In Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, our Team Ocean divers are responsible for surveying and removing lionfish. Lionfish are caught with spear guns and stowed using caution to avoid the spines. 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.

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!


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