TIME: Taming the Lionfish

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Taming the Lionfish:

Can Predators Be Trained to Control an Invasive Species?

By Christy Choi – May 10 2011 – TIME Magazine

In March, on a small reef off the coast of Honduras, a group of pioneering conservationists started teaching sharks how to hunt. A half-dead lionfish, speared earlier by a diver, was released into the midst of a swirling mass of grey reef sharks. Sensing the lionfish’s final twitches, the sharks descended on the weakened prey. Unsuspectingly, a second lionfish wandered into the frenzy. Within seconds, it, too, was gone. All that remained was a trail of mush emanating from a shark’s toothy maw.

Floating in the nearby blue, photographer Antonio Busiello was there to capture the moment he and members of the Roatan Marine Park, a grassroots community organization in Honduras, had spent three months waiting for. “We weren’t sure the sharks would hunt on their own,” Busiello recalls from his studio in Los Angeles. Although not yet common behavior, the reef sharks’ voluntary hunt brings hope of a new way of battling the long-problematic proliferation of lionfish in the region. The aquarium pet turned invader, with it’s voracious appetite, prolific breeding and territorial nature, has locals and scientists up and down the Caribbean and Northern Atlantic worried about the threat it could pose to coastal ecosystems and economies by wiping out the stocks of small fish in an already stressed ecosystem.

Read more at: 
http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2070599,00.html#ixzz1MMPLz8WQ


Lionfish: The Other White Meat

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

The Lionfish are invading! No, it’s not the tag line from a bad sci-fi movie, it’s what scientists around the Caribbean have been saying for years. The Lionfish invasion is so destructive because they eat everything in sight and have very few predators, leaving only humans to control their populations. The only hope of reducing the number of lionfish is to create a demand for them at the dinner table.

Most of the world’s edible fish species are severely overfished. Lionfish is the perfect way to still enjoy fish while avoiding the guilt associated with eating species such as grouper, snapper, and other reef fish. Though lionfish are venomous, the toxin is in the spines, not the meat. If stabbed, the venom is not fatal but will cause pain and swelling near the wound. There are several methods to safely filet a lionfish. The easiest technique is to cut off the dorsal and pectoral spines using scissors. Once the spines are removed, lionfish can be safely and easily prepared like any other fish. Another way is to freeze the entire fish for 2 hours to neutralize the venomous spines.

Lionfish are tasty, with white, delicate, and flakey meat. They are a perfect substitute for grouper and are a completely sustainable and guilt-free fish to eat. There are even Lionfish cookbooks, containing recipes to use the meat in every conceivable way. Most of the recipes can also be found free online. Perhaps the most tasty and popular dish is lionfish ceviche. Other popular ways to cook lionfish include sautéing with garlic and butter or frying. Some people even use it in sushi. So do your part to protect Roatan’s reef by eating lionfish.

The Roatan Marine Park has created a television and radio public service announcement to inform people about the benefits of eating lionfish and how to safely clean them. We will also be visiting the local communities to perform demonstrations on how to cook and clean lionfish.


SEAGRASS – THE FORGOTTEN ECOSYSTEM

Friday, March 19th, 2010

To create the “turquoise water and white sand beach” image that is printed on every postcard and advertisement in the Caribbean, hotels and resorts continue to remove seagrass. In addition to extracting it from the water, hotels and businesses either bury washed up vegetation or place it in plastic bags bound for the dump. This is done to create a more aesthetically pleasing swimming environment with the belief that seagrasses harbor organisms harmful to swimmers. Seagrasses, however, are an economically and ecologically crucial marine habitat. The same seagrasses that are removed for being unsightly actually protect the white sand beaches and tropical waters that draw tourists to our island.

 People should know that waters lacking sediment and nutrients are better for coral reef health. Seagrasses reduce impacts of sewage and run-off on corals by absorbing much of the nutrients before they reach the reef zone. Seagrasses also reduce wave power, thereby consolidating sediments and minimising coastal erosion. A recent study in Mauritius found that beachside hotels that removed seagrass became the victims of their own innovation. In as little as a year, beaches had entirely disappeared due to coastal erosion. The fishing industry also benefits from the existence of seagrasses. They provide shelter for juvenile grouper, snapper, conch and lobster, and are an important food source for adult fish, helping to keep fishing sustainable.

 Coral reefs are designed to benefit from occasional natural disturbances such as hurricanes. But human degradation of Roatan’s reef and associated habitats (upon which tourism success depends) is reducing its ability to recover from such events. The potential result–ecological and economic collapse, perhaps as soon as the next major hurricane.

 While authorities fail to enforce environmental laws, developers need to take on more of a moral responsibility to ensure that their activities are not damaging the natural resources that bring people to the island.


Comparing Lobsters

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

It is common for tourists visiting Roatan to sample the local seafood delicacies, yet according to Seafood WATCH, a guide to smart seafood decisions, it is recommended that many of these species should be avoided.  In this publication, the Spiny Caribbean Lobsters, Grouper and Queen Conch harvested from the Caribbean are red listed (AVOID) while spiny lobsters harvested from the U.S. are recommended.  This difference is due to the U.S. lobster fishery’s strict guidelines, attentive management and extensive monitoring; programs that are sorely lacking in Honduras and the Caribbean.  Harvesting of lobsters without any discrimination of size, number, season or age is a common practice among fishermen in the Bay Islands, all of which are restricted guidelines under Honduran Law which are rarely enforced and never advertised.  All of these factors have led to a virtual crash in lobster populations, placing them on the brink of annihilation in the Bay Islands and cutting their range in half within the Caribbean.

        According to these laws, it is prohibited to harvest spiny lobsters with tails shorter than 14.5cm (5.5 inches). This minimum catch size has been established in order to allow all lobsters an opportunity to achieve sexual maturity and reproduce at least once.  This is an essential strategy as lobsters keep the reef clean.  Imagine a sustainable, well managed lobster fishery where a single harvested adult lobster represents one full meal plus 100s or 1000s of offspring.  Now compare that image to a plate with oversized portions of potatoes and veggies accompanied by 2 cell phone-sized lobster tails.  Which option is best for the restaurant, our fishermen, Honduran tourism, the lobster population and the health of the reef?  If our fishermen refuse to discriminate, then it is our responsibility to so for the future of Roatan.