Deadly Lionfish Invading The Mediterranean: What You Should Know

The Mediterranean Sea is growing warmer by the second, consequently luring in predatory and invasive species that may threaten its ecology, including the deadly lionfish.

Scientists were unsure that this species would survive in the region, but new research suggests that populations of lionfish have moved in and colonized the coastline of Cyprus in the past year.

In a new report, researchers confirmed that the population of lionfish has already gotten bigger and in a span of a year, taken over nearly the entire southeastern coast of Cyprus.

This massive lionfish invasion is the result of the deepening and the widening of the Suez Canal, accelerated by warmer waters in the Mediterranean, the report says.

What You Need To Know

Predatory lionfish are generalist carnivores that can feed on a wide range of crustaceans and fish, with the larger ones almost exclusively preying on fish.

These marine species spawn every four days, and are capable of bringing into life about 2 million eggs per year. The eggs ride ocean currents for about a month before finding a permanent home.

In recent years, lionfish have already taken over parts of the Western Atlantic. Fishermen and scientists alike have tried to prevent or slow the damage that these species can inflict on reefs and other sea life.

Now, for the first time, groups of lionfish displaying mating behavior have been seen in the Mediterranean, says Professor Jason Hall-Spencer of Plymouth University.

Hall-Spencer and other scientists from the university gathered data on encounters with divers, fishermen and spearfishers who reported seeing the lionfish in the coastal waters of Cyprus. They also analyzed lionfish specimens caught in nets by local fishermen.

As a result of the quick invasion, mating and domination of other species, lionfish have colonized roughly an 80-mile stretch of the southeastern coastline of Cyprus, from Limassol to Protaras.

Furthermore, at least 23 new sightings of 19 lionfish individuals have been recorded, with three pairs sighted from the southeastern side of Cyprus: one off Larnaca; one at Protaras; and one at Zinovia wreck.

Scientists say that one of the pairs has since established its own group, becoming a group of five, all living together at Cyclops Caves.

Why The Findings Of The Study Are Important

Hall-Spencer says publishing the findings can help stakeholders plan actions to mitigate the problem.

One possible solution is by offering incentives to fishermen to remove lionfish through programs, which is something that has worked well in the Caribbean.

Fishermen can also restore populations of possible predators of the lionfish, including the dusky grouper.

"Measures will need to be put in place to help prevent further invasion," adds Hall-Spencer.

Details of the study are published in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records.

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