Eradicating Invasive Lionfish


I became an SCA intern at the beginning of the summer with the charge of assessing the invasive lionfish population in Biscayne National Park. Lionfish are quickly taking over coral reefs in the Caribbean, eating as many tiny fish and invertebrates as possible – including commercially important juvenile fish (the ones that provide people with a living and food). The hope is that if we can get a handle on them in places where they aren’t dominating the reefs yet, we can keep their populations under control and the ecosystem in relative balance.

Not only are lionfish hard on the ecosystem, they also have venomous spines, which means nothing wants to munch them for dinner. A major predator can’t be pinpointed in their native area (the Indo-Pacific), which is probably a good thing. Many disasters have been caused by one exotic species being imported to an area to control another. However, we humans, with our great history of unsustainable harvesting, are perfect for the job! If you come across a lionfish the next time you’re in the water or at a fancy restaurant, dig in!

Lindsay giant striding into DRTO

I’ve spent the summer learning a lot about marine monitoring of all kinds and the ins and outs of different methods of survey for different data and species. It’s quite impressive how such a seemingly simple task (finding out if there are lionfish in Biscayne National Park) can be done in a multitude of ways, and a researcher has to make sure they choose the right way to get meaningful data.

First official Lionfish caught in Biscayne’s vicinity

REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) has been setting up projects around the Caribbean and has organized several Lionfish Derbies to get local people informed and involved in lionfish eradication. I have learned a lot from them and am ready to begin my first official research project. I’m excited to use the data collected by our marine crew, including another SCA: Andrew Joseph Estep, to create a program that keeps lionfish out of Biscayne National Park.

Sunset over Loggerhead Island. This was the sunset where half of the observers claimed to see The Green Flash. I’m skeptical, but mostly just jealous I blinked.

My various experiences have shown me that normal, everyday people are the ones that will have the greatest effect on their local environment. I’ve spent several months diving almost everyday in the Park and happened upon zero lionfish, while we’ve started getting almost weekly reports of sightings from fisherman and sport divers. They are the ones who will keep Biscayne healthy. I hope to use this internship to make people aware of their power and create some connections between the Sciences and the People. If the new friends and experiences I’ve had with them in the last 5 months are any representation of the remainder of my time as an SCA: AMAZING things are going to happen.