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.

We are in the World’s 2nd Longest Barrier Reef!

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Do you know where the longest barrier reef is located? It is found in Australia and it is called the Great Barrier Reef. It is so long it can even be seen from space. Ours, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS), is 900 km long- 1/3 of the Great Barrier Reef- which is 2,000 km long. Roatán forms the southernmost part of the MBRS which extends all the way from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula down to Belize, Guatemala and ends up in the Bay Islands of Honduras. The MBRS is unique in its biological diversity and socio-economic importance as a source of subsistence for coastal communities.

Protected areas located in the MBRS contribute to the stabilization and protection of the coastal landscape, maintaining the quality of coastal water, and they are a place for the feeding and reproduction of marine mammals, reptiles, fish and invertebrates, many of which are of commercial importance. Also, the marine species are part of a large connectivity linkage. Unfortunately, there are a growing number of threats to the MBRS, from increased sedimentation from deforestation, overfishing of large predators and herbivores, and nutrients from untreated waste waters. All these impacts lessen the resilience of coral reef ecosystems.

Therefore, it’s urgent to ensure a sustainable management of the region’s marine natural resources. The countries within the MBRS have committed and declared the rescue, restoration, conservation and effective management. For this reason policies and regulations are being promoted at the regional and national levels and are being applied from the island of Contoy in the north of the Yucatan Peninsula, to the Bay Islands of Honduras. Locally, the Sandy Bay West End Marine Reserve is being managed by the Roatán Marine Park, through the promotion of research, education and conservation of our island’s valuable reefs.


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.