How Lionfish And Chips Could Save Saint Lucia’s Reefs
One of the most beautiful fish in the Caribbean is threatening the very existence and health of our reefs. Lionfish are the most dangerous predator in Caribbean waters, responsible for mass genocide on an
industrial scale. When it comes to killing fish, only humans can compete with Lionfish (but that’s a story for another time). First time divers and snorkelers are inevitably wowed when they see their first Lionfish. Indeed with their graceful white wings, shades of auburn and hairy chin they are a remarkable looking species. However most people don’t know the dirty secret that lies behind their presence… Lionfish are native to the Indian and Pacific Ocean, where they are part of the normal ecosystem and can be wholeheartedly embraced as a beautiful fish species. Lionfish in these waters are both hunter and prey and their numbers are kept in check. Everything was fine in the life of the Lionfish until they started appearing the Atlantic. The first sightings came in the nineties along the eastern seaboard of the United States. Where did they come from? Well, there are a few theories. Some maintain that a hurricane in Florida broke the storefront of an aquarium and released captive Lionfish into the wild. Others believe that amateur aquarium enthusiasts were responsible for ditching their pet Lionfish into new seas, no doubt tired of them eating all the other fish! Another plausible theory is that container ships transported Lionfish in their ballast whilst traversing oceans. Either way, they’re here now and intent on staying. With no natural predators in Atlantic and Caribbean waters, Lionfish numbers have multiplied at alarming rates in a short space of time. They have also spread south from the Carolinas all the way down to Venezuela. Caribbean islands, famous for their underwater landscapes, have been amongst the hardest hit. In some places, the Lionfish epidemic is so bad that they are the only fish you will see on dives. Not only are Lionfish without predators in our waters, they are also voracious eaters. Lionfish mainly eat other fish. In fact, sometimes these indiscriminate feeders will even resort to eating each other. A lionfish will basically eat anything that it can fit in its mouth. This means that most reef fish are potential targets. It also means that Lionfish will feed on juvenile pelagic and larger fish. They threaten both the big and the small and are a pest that can destroy almost all the fish life on a reef. A study has shown that after the appearance of Lionfish on a reef, they eradicated 65% of the local fish population. In some areas of Florida and the Carolinas, you can find 1000 Lionfish per hectare – an obscene amount! We are faced with the worst marine invasion in history and steps must be taken to protect the reefs of Saint Lucia. At this stage, scientists believe that it is too late to completely remove Lionfish from Atlantic and Caribbean waters, as they have spread too far and too deep. However, their numbers can be controlled in the shallower reefs that we love to dive or snorkel. To preserve Saint Lucia’s reefs we must be proactive in controlling Lionfish numbers. Dive operators must continue to spear Lionfish found on dive and snorkel sites. Lionfish derbies are a fun way of achieving this goal and getting others involved. To really make a lasting difference, we need to start eating more Lionfish! This way, fishermen will include it as part of their daily catch and we can keep a lid on their numbers. Once their spines have been removed, Lionfish are perfectly edible and are already being served at a an increasing number of tables on the island, notably at Rainforest Hideaway in Marigot Bay, where they even hold classes to teach you how to cook them. As a visitor to Saint Lucia, please make a point of seeking out a Lionfish dinner! You will be helping us keep this island looking as good underwater as it does on land!