Lionfish, Pterois volitans, although native to other side of the world, are very popular in North American aquariums.
Twenty-five or so years ago, someone released them into the wild. The rest plays out like a horror movie with the most super of superspecies on the loose without predators.
Almost all marine species live within very narrow parameters of salinity and temperature, not to mention water clarity, depth, and food source. Not lionfish. They can thrive in two-foot-deep brackish water, which can reach over 90 degrees, as well as the frigid depths of 8,000 feet.
Add to this fact their astonishing fecundity (30,000 eggs are released every four days to disappear wherever the currents take them), and their ability to eat just about anything – including each other – and you have a small sense of the overwhelming problem.
They are wiping out fisheries and altering our reef diversity in Cayman. One study revealed a single invader could eat upwards of 60,000 reef fish in just its first two years of life.
The only good thing to come out of this ecological tragedy is that we get to kill them, and they taste great.
Tom Byrnes is the owner/operator of Cayman Marine Lab. He acquired his Coast Guard Captain’s Licence when he was a teenager and worked as a commercial fisherman in his youth. He got his first diving certificate in 1974 with the YMCA. He has worked in the local dive industry for more than 35 years and has a PhD in marine biology.