Reef and Fishery Assessment of Navassa Island National Wildlife Refuge

On April 23, 2009 scientists from the NOAA's Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami Florida (SEFSC) departed from San Juan, Puerto Rico aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. Their destination: the Navassa National Wildlife Refuge. Along with the NOAA scientists are researchers from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (UM/RSMAS), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the Director of the Fondation pour la Protection de la Biodiversité Marine (FoProBiM), an NGO based in Haiti.
This work is funded by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Catch of the day

The Indo-Pacific red lionfish (Pteroides volitans) is one of the most attractive as well as dangerous reef fish from the family Scorpaenidae. This group includes hundreds of members and some of the world's most poisonous fish species. Sharp spines coated with venomous mucous characterize the family. Generally the spines of the dorsal, pelvic and anal fins have venom glands at their bases. The pectoral fins are supported by long rays and do not bear spines.

Interestingly, a few of the lionfish's cousins are native and commonly found on the coral reefs of the Caribbean, Florida, Bahamas and Bermudas such as the spotted scorpion fish (Scorpaena plumieri). While scorpion fish are native of the region, the red lionfish was introduced to Florida in the early 1990s. During the last ten years the species has expanded slowly south across the region. Sightings have been documented from Bermuda, North Carolina, west coast of Florida, Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Labadee in the north coast of Haiti. Two days ago we documented the first three individuals in Navassa Island.

The red lionfish is not a native species of the West Indies region and the ecological and economical implications of its introduction are still unclear. The species is a top voracious predator, ambushing and sucking their prey like groupers and toadfish do. With very few natural predators, their diet consists of crustaceans, small fish, and even juveniles of their own species. The long pectoral fins and the striped colorations create a disruptive coloration that with their sneaky behavior is a fatal combination for their prey.

This invasive species evolved in a different natural environment and the consequences of their predatory behavior might be detrimental for the native species of the region. Limiting the spread of the red lion fish in the region is being attempted in most regions to avoid potential ecological shifts in the natural ecosystem. Yesterday, Mandy and I when for a lionfish hunt session in the afternoon, put our red protective equipment on, dove down 90 feet, found this misplaced creature underneath a fish trap, took a net, got the lionfish in the net, closed the net, snapped some shots and went up. Unfortunately, that was the end of this lionfish's life.

The hunt for the lionfish is now on. By the way, if stung by a lionfish, a common treatment is to soak the affected area in hot water. Although they spines are not deadly they might be very painful and could cause anaphylaxis reactions in susceptible individuals.
1st photo by Margaret Miller
2nd photo by Abel Valdivia

__Abel Valdivia

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