The invasive and voracious lionfish eating their way through Cayman’s reefs may finally have met their match.
Last weekend, East End dive instructor Nigel Coles killed his 10,000th lionfish since the species was first spotted in Cayman Islands waters. That is an average of 3.5 lionfish a day since September 2009, when Mr. Coles and other divers began noticing lionfish on the island’s reefs.
The predatory fish, which feast on juvenile reef fish, pose a threat to the island’s underwater ecosystem because of their rate of reproduction and the fact that as an introduced species, they have no natural predators in the Atlantic.
Scuba diving cullers have helped keep the surge in population under control in the Cayman Islands, and few have had a greater impact than Mr. Coles, who works for Tortuga Divers.
He has logged the size and weight of every lionfish killed to provide the information to the Department of Environment.
This weekend he took his tally past the 10,000 mark – an achievement that has not only helped protect East End reefs, but has also paid for his boat.
Mr. Coles, who dives with his wife and “spotter” Deby, sells his catch to chefs at Morritt’s Tortuga Club and the Rum Point restaurant, which serve them to tourists.
“I think it is a big achievement,” he said.
“I don’t like killing them because they are such beautiful fish, but when I see what they are doing to the local fish populations and the damage they could do, particularly to juvenile fish inside the barrier reef, I recognize we have to do what we can to get rid of them.”
He estimates his total haul weighs in at more than 5,000 pounds.*
Mr. Coles believes lionfish numbers are starting to come down, but emphasizes that constant culling is essential to keeping the invasion under control.
“Until natural predators learn to start targeting them, we are the only predators they have,” he said.
- This story has been edited to reflect the correct total weight of the fish Mr. Coles has caught.