The Beauty is a Beast
Regular visitors to Grand Cayman and elsewhere in the Caribbean will be familiar with Lionfish. Beautiful and deadly this stunning underwater predator has caused considerable damage to reefs around the Caribbean due to being an invasive species in this part of the world.
Anyone who has dived in Asia considers themselves lucky to spot a lionfish - particularly if we see them "displaying" with their spines flared, a complex courting ritual with the males showing an aggressive visual display to multiple females prior to mating.
Lionfish themselves are fascinating; deadly predators & masters of reproduction with an ability to survive in the most difficult of underwater conditions but sadly, for the Caribbean, with no natural predators in this part of the world.
There are a number of theories as to how lionfish ended up in the Caribbean - the most popular (and most likely) is deliberate or accidental release of captive specimens possibly as a result of a Hurricane passing through Florida in the early 1990's. With female lionfish able to produce in excess of a million fertilised eggs every year and the fish's ability to consume over 79% of the fish in their immediate reef every few weeks, the destruction they cause has been extreme. They are not fussy eaters and have the ability to stretch their stomach to consume prey bigger than themselves. Their appetite includes eating algae consuming fish (cleaner shrimp, parrot fish etc) meaning that the coral becomes overgrown, has less access to sunlight and therefore becomes ill and dies.
In addition lionfish have the ability to survive in extreme circumstances, can live without food for weeks on end and survive extreme temperature fluctuations. Basically are tough and should be admired! But the impact on our underwater environment has been disastrous.
A member of the same family as stonefish and scorpionfish the lionfish has venomous spines so hunting attempts should only be undertaken with training and then with caution. Saying that there are no cases of lionfish causing a fatal injury to a human. Once caught and removed from the water de-spining is not a difficult task. The meat is white, light & flakey. Healthy & delicious!
The shallow reefs around the Cayman Islands are largely lionfish free - regular culling and cooperation between dive operators, the Department of Environment and local divers means that the fish are removed fairly quickly & humanely. But there are many many more fish deeper than recreational scuba allows us to go and so efforts need to be sustained & continued to keep numbers in check and preserve the health of our reefs.
Red Sail Sports is always happy to welcome lionfish hunters onto our dive boats. We run specific lionfish culling boats on the last Sunday of every month and regular lionfish culling courses that can result in a PADI certification and a culling license from the Department of Environment. Please note that you are required by law to have a license to dive with a lionfish spear, if you don't have one you are welcome to accompany a licensed hunter as their lionfish spotter.
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