Lionfish population explodes in Florida Keys – Sun

For the first time since lionfish were spotted in the Florida Keys, scientists are now able to determine how many and how quickly the invasive species is taking over. In an article in the Bulletin of Marine Science, scientists with the University of Miami, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the National Park Service and NOAA Fisheries document the abundance and rapid spread of lionfish throughout the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

In 2010 researchers estimated there were 89,000 lionfish in the Keys. In 2011 those estimates increased to 335,000 fish, which is likely a conservative estimate since lionfish hide in the reef. Lionfish have been present in low numbers along the east coast of Florida since the 1980s, but were not reported in the Florida Keys until 2009. According to researchers, the average size of lionfish also increased. Scientists expected lionfish to eventually appear and increase in abundance in the Keys, but the rate of increase is both surprising and alarming.

“Lionfish are voracious predators and are most likely having impacts on native fish species, disrupting the ecology of the area they invade,” said Ben Ruttenberg, a biologist with NOAA Fisheries. “Lionfish have no natural predators in their invaded range in the Caribbean and Atlantic. With long-term monitoring, we will be able to document and understand the ecosystem impacts of this invasive predator.”

Scientists are asking the public to help. When people see or catch a lionfish, they can report the sighting online at reef.org/lionfish.

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