From Microcosm Aquarium Explorer

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Pterois volitans Scott Michael

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Dumped aquarium fish threatening native fish in Florida


Top scientists are warning about an impending invasion of a poisonous fish into South Florida's waters.

The lionfish, a native of the Pacific Ocean, is both gorgeous and dangerous. Many people may never have seen a lionfish in the waters surrounding South Florida, but many people will be seeing these intriguing fish a lot more often.

Scientists don't use the word "invasion" lightly, but that's exactly what they are predicting of the exotic-looking lionfish. The poisonous tips on the lionfish's fins could present a danger to people who swim, dive or work in the South Florida waters.

Aquarium manager Anthony Bartolome said he has been stung five times by lionfish. "It pretty much burns like fire," Bartolome said. The aquarium manager at Al’s Aquarium in Broward County said that the pain from a lionfish sting lasts for about 15 to 20 minutes.

The lionfish’s sting is so serious that it can send victims to the hospital or kill them. "There is no anti-venom for this," said Lad Akins, the Executive Director of Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). Akins spoke before a full auditorium at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science on Virginia Key.

Experts are so concerned about the impending invasion of lionfish that they are desperately trying to warn the public. "They're also very bold fish, especially in this new Atlantic range where it appears that they have few, if any, predators," Akins stated.

When lionfish grow too big, aquarium owners begin dumping the fish right into the Atlantic. Now they are breeding at a rapid pace, experts said.Lionfish have no predators because they do not belong in the Atlantic. There is nothing here to eat them and nothing to stop them from eating South Florida’s reef fish.

Scientists and volunteers are feverishly trying to fight the invasion of lionfish. To do this, they are studying and killing the lionfish, now found in deep and shallow water.

Experts believe that lionfish in the Bahamas and in Cancun, Mexico, will, as larvae, make their way to South Florida on the ocean currents. Once established, they will start destroying reefs and throwing the ecosystem out of balance.

This change will threaten the lobster, grouper, snapper, and many more animals that call these waters their home. New studies headed by Mark Hixon of Oregon State University that are about to be published in a peer-reviewed science journal found one lionfish can deplete 79 percent of a reef in just five weeks.

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References: Lionfish Invasion Spreads