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Invasive Species: Volitan Lionfish


Environmental responsibility is not something that most people think about when they are purchasing fish or plants for their aquarium, but it should be. Responsible ownership is vital to the long term availability of non-indigenous livestock. Unwanted fish and plants should never be released into the wild. In recent years there have been far too many stories about invasive plants and animals ravaging local ecosystems, with the blame being placed upon negligent or uneducated aquarium owners.
Most of us remember the snakehead stories from a couple of years ago, and all the bad movies that ensued. Florida residents probably hear stories on a daily basis about invasive fish, plants, reptiles, amphibians and other things causing problems.
An emerging story that I have found particularly interesting is the invasion of the Volitan Lionfish into the Atlantic coastal waters of the United States. When I first got into SCUBA diving in the early nineties, I was in school at Coastal Carolina (Go Chants!). I would hear the occasional tourist say that they saw a Lionfish on an offshore wreck while diving. Being both an aquarist, and a skeptic, I had dismissed all those stories as nonsense, after all how could a tropical fish from the Pacific and Indian Oceans be living in temperate Carolina. These people must have mistaken something else for a Lionfish, a Sea Robin, A Sculpin, something.

Believe it! 15 years later, the existence of Lionfish is not only documented, but they are growing in number, and becoming a major problem. NOAA has documented specimens ranging from Florida to New York. Some divers have reported hundreds on the offshore wrecks of the Carolinas. Lionfish are voracious predators, with little who prey on them. These invasive predators have the potential to destroy these sensitive ecosystems.
Speculation as to how they were introduced has developed several theories; the most realistic of these series revolve around intentional releases from aquarium owners, as well as unintentional release from hurricane damage to homes, businesses, and aquariums in Florida and the Caribbean. As unlikely as it seems, the reality is that lionfish are thriving and reproducing in temperate waters.
My point is that release should never be an option for a non indigenous species. Give them to another aquarist who will keep them, approach your local pet store about returning unwanted fish, or consult your veterinarian about humane euthanasia. Plants should be sealed in a plastic bag before throwing them away as well.
I hope that has given you something to think about, until next blog.

Dave

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