I am in Belize. I’m living on a small island on Glover’s Reef called South West Caye. For the past 3 years I have been living here for a few months at a time working as a dive instructor. The first year I came, I remember coming across a few lionfish during my dives but it seemed we could kill them all in 1 dive. Toward the end of my 2 month stay, I began to realize what a threat they were becoming. That is when I started learning about the story of the lionfish’s introduction to the Caribbean. Last year they were everywhere, and I became accustomed to shooting them on my dives and eating them for dinner. However, that wasn’t enough… The lionfish inhabited far deeper depths than I could go on my dives amd hid deep within the reef walls. Many were not speared on the dives and it became overwelming to hunt them all This year I have come back with some different tactics. We can’t expect to kill all the lionfish with a few dive masters. However, if we begin to educate our guests and make them aware of the issues surrounding lionfish on Caribbean Reefs, and encourage local fisheries to target lionfish for tourist consumption, maybe we can create a local market for lionfish. The most important thing is trying to come up with solutions that local communities can implement.
Here at Isla Marisol the locals are spearing between 6-15 a day. They are trying to interest guests to try lionfish dishes, as well as attempting to teach the local predators to eat them. As far as we have observed most predators avoid them until they are dead. The species that we have seen attracted to lionfish are the queen trigger fish. They have begun to follow divers instead of flee from them in search of lionfish casualties. The spotted and green morays have been observed aggressively feeding on them. Nurse sharks and the Nassau grouper have been seen eating them. Interestingly, the fisherman in the area have reported finding lionfish in the stomachs of barracuda Today Jan 28th my other dive instructor observed a queen trigger fish attacking a wounded lionfish. This is progress. The lionfish population has no predator control nor a limit on food source. They eat just about anything. They need some sort of population control or else you get what we have here a population explosion. It seems right now that the Caribbeian countries will not be able to consistently over fish their populations . Even if we could over fish their population, the mode of fishing favors large fish in shallow areas (10ft – 100ft). This fishing technique may favor a selection for smaller lionfish. Through stomach analasis of about 40 fish, we have found that smaller lionfish tend to have more juveniles in their stomachs while the larger lionfish tend to eat larger and fewer juveniles. This could cause a demographic shift on lionfish size and behavior. If we can locally teach our predators to hunt a live lionfish, they may adapt to feeding on them offering some balance to what depths they are being taken from. However, it’s important that we look at the big picture and pay attention to any other changes on the reef, such as blue wrass recruitment. Any effort must be closely monitored and the local communities are the most qualified to do this because they know their reefs, and they are the ones who will directly benefit from it.
Thank you for your interest and stay tuned for further developments on how we can create a reef monotring program that guests and locals can be apart of on Glover’s reef atoll.