More than a dozen dive sites in Little Cayman’s Bloody Bay Marine Park were culled by divers over the weekend to raise awareness of the devastating effects of lionfish on local marine life.
“We put together this event so people would recognize that this is a problem. Little Cayman is known for its near pristine reefs and gorgeous Bloody Bay Wall, and we want to keep it that way,” said Caitlin Hale of Reef Divers, the event’s organizer.
“The Great Bloody Cull” drew 49 dive volunteers who headed to sea on 11 boats on July 23 and culled the entire Bloody Marine Park.
“It was the first time that every single current member of staff all got together on one common trip, and went for a fun dive that involved saving our reefs,” she said.
Two days later, a “Cull-inary Taster” was held at the Little Cayman Beach Resort, where almost 100 people got to taste lionfish and learned about the impact of the invasive species on local marine life.
“A lot of the guests had heard of lionfish but hadn’t tasted it. Lionfish tastes good, and eating it is part of the solution,” said Ms. Hale.
According to volunteers, lionfish numbers have declined in Little Cayman’s marine park.
“The numbers are speaking for themselves,” said Ms. Hale. “What we took on this cull was great, but years ago it would be close to 200 fish. For the whole marine park, it’s a dramatic improvement.”
In February 2008, the first lionfish in Cayman was removed from a dive site in Little Cayman. Since then, Ms. Hale said, “The Little Cayman dive resorts, Department of Environment, Central Caribbean Marine Institute and local residents have all made a serious commitment to the reduction of the lionfish population in the world famous Bloody Bay Marine Park.”
Stacy Frank of Lionfish University said the numbers have decreased thanks to the weekly volunteer culling efforts in Little Cayman. “Culling works; we see it in the water all the time,” she said.
Ms. Frank said she saw first saw the impact of lionfish in Little Cayman in 2011, when there were fewer sightings of the Arrow Blenny fish species. Lionfish, which have no known predators, can wipe out entire marine species and reefs. Ms. Frank said she was excited to report seeing an Arrow Blenny at the marine park recently.
“It’s … because of the concerted efforts here to get the lionfish reduced that allows the native fish reef population to rebound,” she said.
Ms. Hale said it can be difficult for non-divers to understand the impact. “If you are not a diver, then you’re not seeing the impact on the reef under the water.”
But she said non-divers can still support culling efforts by choosing lionfish options at restaurants.