The rise and rise of the lionfish (Pterois miles) is a timely reminder that threats to the world’s marine environments aren’t all directly linked to humans.
First seen off the coast of Cyprus just eight years ago, the invasive species is now thriving across southern Europe, researchers say.
It is so well established, in fact, that it probably can’t be eradicated and developing a lionfish industry might be the best way to manage the situation and lessen its negative impact, they write in a paper in the Journal of Fish Biology.
The lionfish’s worrying habits include eating ecologically and socio-economically important fish, which may result in further disruption of an already stressed environment.
The study by researchers from Cyprus and the UK was part of a four-year, EU-funded project to find solutions to its impact.
“Among the numerous threats to our marine ecosystems biological pollution is less apparent to the human perception, but in reality, it’s potent enough to disrupt the ecological balance,” says Ioannis Savva from Marine and Environmental Research Lab in Cyprus, the paper’s lead author.
“Although not all alien species successfully establish in or harm their new environment, some acclimatise relatively easy, exhibit rapid spread and exert catastrophic impacts on local marine communities.
“That has been the case with lionfish populations in the western Atlantic Ocean and now the story is repeating itself in the Mediterranean Sea.”
Lionfish were first recorded off the coast of Florida in 1994, but by 2014 it was estimated there were up to 400 per hectare.
In the Mediterranean, lionfish are spreading fast along the island of Cyprus, forming large aggregations and achieving greater body size and faster growth rates than those in the Indian Ocean from where they immigrated.
The Mediterranean population also differs because although the lionfish show signs of spawning throughout the year, they exhibit a single major reproductive peak that coincides with seawater warming over the summer period.
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