Since 2001, two species of lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) have begun threatening marine and coral reef ecosystems along the Southeastern US coastline and through the Caribbean and the Bahamas. Because of their venomous spines, lionfish have few, if any, natural predators. They have a voracious appetite and consume a wide range of fish, reproduce quickly and are able to survive in many depths and habitats. The lionfish’s rapid spread across the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico threatens not only the marine ecosystems, it threatens the economies that depend on them (including fishing, diving and nautical tourism). Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution to the problem.
The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), a non-profit organization of recreational divers, is committed to educating boaters and divers about ecological concerns. Their members regularly conduct fish biodiversity and abundance surveys, and hold workshop. South Florida-based Divers Direct, which provides a wide range of services and products for the diving and boating communities, has partnered with REEF and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, to offer a series of workshops. These sessions, which are available through October, will teach divers how to assist in the fight against the lionfish invasion. REEF’s director of special projects, Lad Akins, and his team will provide information on the background of the invasion, the biology/ecology of lionfish, the impact of their spreading habitat, current research findings, collecting tools and techniques, market development and community involvement. Special workshops are also available to satisfy permit requirements allowing dive professionals and avid recreational divers to capture lionfish in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The workshops for lionfish permits are only available in the Florida Keys and a few other locations.