Sure, it looks exotic and cool in your dentist’s saltwater aquarium or a glossy travel magazine photo. But it’s no exaggeration to say that lionfish are among the greatest ecological threats to the waters of the Caribbean and Western Atlantic Ocean, and that urgent, sustained action is needed to stop or at least slow the march of this destructive invasive species.
The Second Annual Shipwreck Park Lionfish Derby will take place 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, August 17 out of the Alsdorf Park boat ramp in Pompano Beach, Florida. Teams of divers will collect and remove as many lionfish as possible by spearing or netting in an effort to win cash prizes and bragging rights, as well as help the Reef Environmental Education Foundation in its efforts to stem the invasion and educate the public on this serious threat to the marine environment. Entry is just $50 per two-person team. The event is sponsored by Mercury Marine and sanctioned by REEF and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The lionfish issue got its start a couple of decades ago when North Americans started keeping lionfish in their aquariums. With their wide, fan-like fins and sporting vibrant orange, brown and white stripes, the lionfish – native to the Indian, Southern, and Western Pacific Oceans – is visually striking and often the center of attention. The problem began when people tired of their fish tanks and unwittingly freed lionfish into coastal waters of the eastern and southern U.S. These seemingly small indiscretions have since evolved into a looming ecological catastrophe as the fish have bred and thrived in an environment that was completely unequipped to keep them in check. Today, lionfish have been spotted from South America to the Northeastern U.S., and they are wreaking havoc on the delicate balance of our marine ecosystem.
Lionfish can grow to 18 inches and weigh up to 3 pounds. While modest in size, they possess a voracious appetite, have few natural predators in the Atlantic and reproduce at a stunning rate. Once a female reaches sexual maturity at a year old, it can produce a cluster of eggs every four days – up to two million per year – and may do so for 10-15 years. They prey on baitfish and mollusks with stunning efficiency. The resulting disruption to the food chain is creating a meaningful and lasting impact on thousands of species, including popular commercial and sportfish targets such as mahi-mahi, tuna and grouper.
The Shipwreck Park Lionfish Derby will be capped off with the Taste of Shipwreck Park from 6-9 p.m. at the Sample-McDougald House in Centennial Park. Attendees will enjoy live music, vendor booths and a variety of local cuisine – including fresh lionfish caught in the derby!
For more information on the Lionfish Derby or the Taste of Shipwreck Park, please visit shipwreckparkpompano.org. To learn more about what you can do to help stop the spread of lionfish and other invasive species, please see reef.org.