Lionfish infestation in Atlantic Ocean a major epidemic

US pet owners unwittingly release the venomous predator fish into the ocean

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The Independent Online

Marine biologists are working frantically to find ways of dealing with an infestation of Lionfish in the Atlantic Ocean.

The venomous fish, recognisable by their spiky fin rays and stripy colourations are destroying marine life.

With no known natural predators, aside from humans, and an ability to reproduce quickly, they are able to decimate 90 per cent of a reef's population.

“The lionfish invasion is probably the worst environmental disaster the Atlantic will ever face,” said Graham Maddocks, president and founder of Ocean Support Foundation, a body which works with government and research agencies to reduce the lionfish population around Bermuda.

Lionfish are not indigenous to the Atlantic Ocean. The blame for their arrival is to be squarely pinned on human shoulders.

Pet owners in Florida have reportedly been blamed for releasing the fish into unfamiliar waters. It may be hard to fathom but DNA evidence has traced all lionfish in the Atlantic back to between six to eight female lionfish, according to CNN.

Many working within the field of marine preservation are deeply concerned for the marine life that surrounds the unwelcome visitors.

Speaking to the news channel, ecologist James Morris from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, a US government agency, said that while this invasion may not be the worst epidemic the Atlantic Ocean has seen, it has the makings of a disaster.

He added that the lionfish has brought a “big change in biodiversity.” He described the species as “the most abundant top-level predator on some coral reefs (in the Atlantic)”.

The first recorded sightings of the fish were a few decades ago but their population has grown incredibly quickly.

The fish are thought to produce 30,000 to 40,000 eggs every few days, and become sexually mature by the age of one.

Because lionfish are not common in the Atlantic, the ocean's ecosystem is particularly vulnerable, with native fish lacking an instinct to keep away from them.

Lionfish can now be found throughout the Amazon, the Bahamas, the Caribbean and in the waters along the US state of North Carolina's eastern sea line.