Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Deadly lionfish invade Florida waters?


Top scientists are warning about an impending invasion of a poisonous fish into Florida's waters.

The lionfish, a native of the Pacific Ocean, is both gorgeous and dangerous. Many people may have never seen a lionfish in the waters surrounding Florida, but that will soon change.

Scientists don't use the word "invasion" lightly, but that's exactly what they are predicting of the exotic-looking lionfish.

The poisonous tips on the lionfish's fins could present a danger to people who swim, dive or work in Florida waters.

Aquarium manager Anthony Bartolome said he has been stung five times by lionfish.

"It pretty much burns like fire," Bartolome said.

The pain from a lionfish sting lasts for about 15 to 20 minutes. The lionfish's sting is so serious it can send victims to the hospital and even kill them.

"There is no anti-venom for this," said Lad Akins, executive director of Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF).

Experts are so concerned about the impending invasion of lionfish they are desperately trying to warn the public.

"They're also very bold fish, especially in this new Atlantic range where it appears that they have few, if any, predators," Akins stated.

Lionfish have no predators because they do not belong in the Atlantic Ocean. There is nothing here to eat them or stop them from eating Florida's reef fish.

When lionfish grow too big, aquarium owners begin dumping the fish right into the Atlantic Ocean.

Now they are breeding at a rapid pace, experts said.

Scientists and volunteers are feverishly trying to fight the invasion of lionfish.

To do this, they are studying - and killing - the lionfish, now found in deep and shallow water.

Experts believe lionfish in the Bahamas and in Cancun, Mexico, will, as larvae, make their way to Florida on the ocean currents.

Once established, they will start destroying reefs and throwing the ecosystem out of balance.

This change will threaten the lobster, grouper, snapper and many more animals that call these waters their home.

New studies headed by Mark Hixon of Oregon State University are about to be published in a peer-reviewed science journal found one lionfish can deplete 79 percent of a reef in just five weeks.

That means coral ecology dies and algae takes over.

"You know the potential is there for it to be devastating," said Tom Jackson with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Jackson's job is to track invasive species and creatures that can sometimes change and destroy a vital ecosystem.

His personal opinion is it would be best to ban the sale of lionfish completely.

"In 2003, nearly 8,000 were imported to Tampa alone, 8,000. You only need 15 or 20 in one area to create a population," Jackson said.

Volunteers are being recruited to help stop the invasion of this species into the South Florida waters.

SOURCE: TCPalm