The poisonous Lionfish, first spotted swimming in the Atlantic off Miami in the 1980’s, has made an explosive population gain since 2007 and has now completed its long-feared invasion after several were spotted swimming near people off a Key Biscayne beach this weekend.
Dangerous Lionfish Comes Roaring Into South Florida
Experts warn public after several poisonous Lionfish spotted, caught near beaches
"It was quite a shock,” said Mike Schmale, a marine biologist at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science. He and Steven Lutz caught a Lionfish at the Key Biscayne Beach Club and put the live specimen in Schmale’s lab for DNA analysis.
“And, you know, (it’s) very depressing to think that, after reading about this for years, they've really reached our doorstep here in Miami and probably in large numbers," Schmale said.
The venomous spikes on the small, striped fish can inflict serious injury, enough to send the person to the hospital in severe cases. Finding the Lionfish so close to the near-shore beaches is a new milestone for the invasion.
"Well, you see people in the water,” said Lutz, a fish expert and snorkel enthusiast, while he surveyed the busy beach Tuesday evening. “And right over there is where we caught them. And in these waters right here, there are apparently five more."
"We've waited - dreaded - this day,” he said, “and now they're here....And apparently the pain of being stung will make you want to chop your arm off."
The Lionfish are native to the South Pacific but have no known predators in the Atlantic. They got into the wild around Florida the same way many other invasive species did: They were released in to the wild by owners, this time by some aquarium owners.
Now, the invasion of the Lionfish has reached very close to our beaches.
Authorities tried to stop the Lionfish after first being spotted in the 1980’s. The population grew only slightly during the 1990’s. But by the early 2000's, it began to spike. In the late 2000’s, it exploded. And now there are countless sightings throughout the region.
The population explosion results in this new fact: Lionfish are now near shore, near swimmers like Jorge Andino.
"No, I didn't know," Andino said. "I think that's awful. Poisonous Lionfish?!"
Is there anything that can be done to stop the spread of the Lionfish? Mathematically, probably not. Volunteers have been able to kill more than 940 of them in a $5,000 Lionfish Fishing Derby in the Bahamas where the problem is most severe. Others have removed more than 40 percent of the known Lionfish in the Florida Keys during a three-year period.
With a lot of work, the spread of Lionfish can be slowed, but not stopped. Policymakers are, more and more, with the Lionfish or any other invasive species, turning to a change in the law. Banning the importation of Lionfish into Florida is a proposal that's still on the table.
If you see a Lionfish, you’re asked to contact REEF at www.reef.org. If you are experienced, you can capture or kill the Lionfish but always note the location.