Tuesday, August 2, 2011
I had the privilege of scuba diving in Bonaire (part of Holland, off the coast of Venezuela) last week. The last time I had been there was in 2004, and I wondered if I might see evidence on the coral reef of warming or acidifying waters. I found that neither my memory nor my expertise was adequate to claim witness to such changes, but I did learn about another threat: the invasive lionfish.
Lionfish are a wonder to see (below), but pose great danger to native fish populations. Native to the Pacific, lionfish supposedly arrived to the Caribbean in 1992 when a privately-owned aquarium in Florida’s Biscayne Bay was shattered by Hurricane Andrew. The first lionfish sighting in Bonaire was in 2009, and they are now prevalent throughout the Caribbean. With a voracious appetite for other fish, a high rate of reproduction, and no known predators, they are viewed as an enemy and an epidemic.
In an interesting way, recreational scuba divers who vacation in Bonaire are being recruited to help control the lionfish population. Before you dive, you receive an orientation that includes information about the problem. You are instructed to mark the spot where you see a lionfish by attaching a small flag to a nearby rock. You then report the sighting, and locals who are specifically trained as lionfish “eliminators” are called in to find it and make the kill. Although fishing with spear guns had been prohibited for decades in Bonaire, it was legalized in 2010 for the killing of lionfish. Also, you – a tourist – can get in on the spear gun action yourself if you take a special day-long course. So, if you dive and your inner hunter needs an outlet, consider a trip to Bonaire!
- Lesley McAllister