Hollywood screenwriter and producer James V. Hart has been putting his talents to work raising awareness of the impact the invasive lionfish population has on reefs throughout the Caribbean, the United States and South and Central America.
He is working on a public service announcement filmed in the Cayman Islands that aims to alert more people of the threat these fish pose and encourage people to catch and eat them.
Mr. Hart, who along with Stacy Frank, set up Lionfish University to try to connect efforts throughout the Caribbean and other areas affected by lionfish that have appeared throughout the region, along the east coast of America and as far south as Venezuela.
The pair recently filmed footage of lionfish culls in Little Cayman and Grand Cayman for the announcement.
A study published last month by the University of North Carolina showed that marine predators had no influence on lionfish abundance.
“That’s important to know,” Mr. Hart said. “It means, unless human beings do something about this, lionfish will continue to destroy the reef fish population and destroy the reefs.”
Mr. Hart’s screenwriting credits include “Hook”, “Contact”, “August Rush” and the recent “Epic”, for which he was also executive producer.
Lionfish have huge appetites and before they are even 2 years old are capable of eating 60,000 reef fish, according to researchers. It had been hoped that eels, snapper and reef sharks could be “taught” to target the fish, curbing its unchecked population explosion across the Caribbean and beyond, but there is no evidence that these predators are hunting or killing the invasive species.
Other research, based on the culling done by dive operators in Little Cayman and published by the University of Florida and the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, demonstrates for the first time that lionfish can be controlled on a local scale when a relatively small team of dedicated individuals targeted specific reefs to reduce lionfish numbers.
According to that research, although complete eradication of lionfish over broad areas is unrealistic, management approaches such as that in Little Cayman can help maintain reef biodiversity and sustain valuable tourism and dive industries.
Mr. Hart and Stacy Frank took part in the community cull on Little Cayman on 24 July, when part of the PSA was filmed.
Ms Frank said, “We culled 10 that night. The average culls were bringing in 60-80 fish or so per week, but it is getting harder to find the fish as the culling is working.”
Reigning Miss Cayman Lindsay Japal is again pulling lionfish duty, starring in this PSA – the second one Mr. Hart has made – that encourages people to eat lionfish.
In the first one, she strolled through Camana Bay and ate a lionfish ceviche at Michael’s Genuine. This time, she was on location in Little Cayman.
There, dive operators including the Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman Beach Resort, Pirate’s Point Resort and Conch Club Divers have been voluntarily donating boats, fuel and staff to participate in weekly culls since 2010. During these culls, hundreds of lionfish are removed from Little Cayman’s reefs every month, the PSA points out.