How Li­on­fish And Chips Could Save Saint Lucia’s Reefs

Tropical Traveller Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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!

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