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Hungry Lionfish invasion pushing native marine creatures in Caribbean coral reefs to brink of extinction

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The Caribbean's coral reefs are being plagued by a lionfish invasion and it looks like the only way to save the marine life around the reefs is for divers to plunge into the waters and kill the invaders. Thankfully, though, not all lionfish need to be killed.

In a study led by Stephanie Green, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University, it was found that if 75 percent to 95 percent of the lionfish on a single reef were removed, the fish would still increase by 50 percent to 70 percent within a year and a half. However, instead of spending 30 percent of the time trying to catch the last remaining fish, if divers moved to another lionfish-infested area, they would more efficient in bringing down the infestation to a larger degree.

The study, published in the journal Ecological Applications, suggest that marine wildlife managers be scientific in targeting areas to tackle for a systematic removal of the lionfish. A major factor to consider is if the site is home to small fish, making mangroves and shallow reefs a priority for lionfish removal.

Lionfish are notorious for being able to subsist on anything so long as it fits into their mouth. They flourish because they are aggressive, grow quickly and spawn quickly, and their spikes carry a painful venom. They can also remain alive even after a long period of starvation. In the Atlantic, they have no known natural predators.

Their invasion in the Atlantic is believed to have begun in the 1980s, but they were confined to a small area in the coast of Florida. After about twenty years, they began to encroach on the area along the Eastern seaboard and in Bermuda, eventually spreading to the Bahamas. Last year they were seen in the Gulf of Mexico and the south Caribbean, affecting the coral reefs in the area.

Authorities in the U.S., especially in Florida, are fearful of what this infestation might do to the coral reefs in the area, so they have organized fishing derbies to help keep the lionfish population in check

Because of the lionfish's natural characteristics and its knack for survival, complete eradication seems highly unlikely. However, the latest study suggests that if marine biologists are to save the reefs, complete eradication is not necessary after all.

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