Lion fish are everywhere here in the Caribbean, but they aren’t supposed to be. They’re a venomous fish with showy black, white and red stripes and spiky fin rays. They native to the Indo-Pacific region but were unintentionally introduced to the Atlantic in the 90s and have since become a huge problem for Caribbean reefs as well as the East Coast of the United States. How they got here is widely speculated – one theory is that they were released from a private aquarium and another places the blame on Hurricane Andrew. Who knows. They have no natural enemies in the Atlantic though and so the population has exploded. This is problematic because they eat the young of many native fish species and those populations are now in serious decline. As you can imagine, this has serious implications for the health of Atlantic marine ecosystems. One effect of this is decreased economic value in terms of tourist dollars – divers travel to places with healthy and abundant reefs. Lion fish are territorial and aggressive and their stings can cause vomiting, fever, sweating and in rare cases even death….all in all very problematic! In an effort to control lion fish populations many divers are now actively killing them throughout their dives. Lion fish derbies with prize money for the most lion fish kills are not uncommon either.
Here in Cayman Brac some diver masters at our resort carry spears and knives and once killed they leave the lion fish on the reef as the groupers have started to eat them. I knew all of this before arriving here but had never actually seen anyone kill one. That changed on our 2nd dive of our 1st dive day! Our DM (dive master) Manny speared and sliced up 2 of them. I started to feel sorry for this rather intimidating looking fish but then tried to remember he’s doing the reef a favor. They don’t belong here, and they’ve caused enough havoc as it is. He’s just restoring some balance to the environment. It still seems like such a departure from the usual diver attitude of ‘don’t touch anything, don’t harass anything, and don’t leave anything behind but your bubbles’ though. It’ll certainly take some getting used to. Often the dead lion fish are used in cooking too – they’re apparently quite tasty once all the venomous bits are removed. Today Manny killed another one and then carried it around on his spear for a portion of the dive looking for something to feed it to. He cut it into two pieces, stuffed half into an octopus den and left the other at the bottom of a coral head. Not more than a minute or two later a gorgeous queen trigger fish swooped in started picking at it (which was very exciting because they’re not known to eat lion fish!) but was quickly interrupted by a black tipped reef shark who made fast work of what was left of the carcass. I’ll post the shark video with my next post but for now here’s a video of the lion fish slaughter.