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04/17/2013

The dangers of lionfish

Lionfish
A diver swims with a lionfish in the Honduran Caribbean Sea. (AFP photo)

They are beautiful, graceful creatures.

But the last thing you want to do is admire lionfish because, well, they devour everything in the Atlantic.

They are native to the coral reefs of the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean but have made their way as far north up the east coast to Rhode Island. They were first spotted off the Florida coast in the mid-80s but it wasn’t until the past decade that large numbers were spotted in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.

The fish may have been transported by the aquarium trade.

So why exactly are lionfish bad?

They are voracious predators and are taking the already threatened Caribbean reefs by storm. They are non-selective feeders  and with almost no natural enemies in the tropical western Atlantic, they have invited themselves to an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. Lionfish are known to consume 20 small fish in a 30-minute period.

Their stomachs can expand up to 30 times their normal size after a meal.

Oh, they also reproduce every few days. Nothing eats them because they are covered with venomous spines.   

A recent study found that in just two years, reefs in the Bahamas lost on average 65 per cent of their small prey fish.

Researchers warn that a similar devastation could be expected throughout the region.

Raveena Aulakh is the Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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