Invasive lionfish on shoot to kill list

Fri Feb 18, 2011 3:14pm EST
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By Ed Stoddard

COZUMEL, Mexico (Reuters Life!) - Mexican dive master Martin Vera has one code for the intruders in his beloved waters: shoot to kill.

The intruders are lionfish, creatures with venomous tendrils, that are native to Indo-Pacific waters but are colonizing the Caribbean at a furious pace.

Vera said he saw his first lionfish just eight months ago.

"Then I would see one or two a week and then it started increasing, increasing," he said.

Now, on some sections of the magnificent reef that runs along the tropical island of Cozumel, the fish seem to be everywhere.

On a recent mid-February dive, Vera expertly "speared" about a dozen lionfish, gingerly discarding their corpses to avoid their venomous spines, which while not fatal to humans can still inflict a painfully poisonous sting.

"You see no other creatures on the coral where you see the lionfish. They eat everything that moves," he explained.

U.S. researchers say the lionfish are gobbling up many different species that are important for recreational, commercial and ecological reasons, such as juvenile grouper and snapper and parrot fish.   Continued...

<p>A dead lionfish floats in the water, as its greenish blood is seen in the background, after it was speared by Mexican dive master Martin Vera off the reefs of Cozumel February 11, 2011. REUTERS/Christa Cameron</p>