After writing about some of Cyprus’ environmentally destructive actions, it feels good to hear about these positive organized efforts to eradicate this marine threat. Lionfish have long been on our radar, but this is the first we’ve heard of their spread through European waters.
Perhaps a new venue for eradication idea exchange is in order!
Cyprus has held its first organised cull of lionfish after numbers of the invasive species have proliferated in recent years, threatening the Mediterranean ecosystem and posing a venomous danger to humans.
“They’re actually very placid,” said Prof Jason Hall-Spencer, a marine biologist, after spearing 16 of the exotic specimens in the space of 40 minutes in the inaugural “lionfish removal derby” off the island’s southern coast. He added: “The problem is they are not part of the natural ecosystem and we are seeing them in plague proportions.”
Lionfish, armed with venomous dorsal spines that enable them to deter predators, are more normally associated with warm tropical waters of the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. Almost two decades ago the non-native tropical fish began to enter US waters, appearing in the Atlantic after pet owners started releasing outsized lionfish from home aquariums into the sea. Now they have reached Europe. In 2012, after initial sightings off Turkey, Israel and Lebanon, they were spotted off Cyprus. Three years later they had appeared further south in Greece, Italy and Tunisia, testimony, scientists say, to their ability to both enter new territories and spawn at record rates.
As numbers proliferate, so have fears of the flamboyantly coloured fish posing the biggest ecological setback to ecosystems in the Mediterranean – which is already under pressure from pollution, tourism and over-exploitation. In the EU, Cyprus has become “the first line of defence” against the lionfish invasion.
With mounting evidence of the species’ capacity to outcompete other fish, the Cypriot government has increasingly come round to the idea of organised culls – acknowledging that if the pest is not brought under control lionfish will have an effect on commercial fishing.
Nicholas Michaelides, of the fisheries and marine research department in Nicosia, said: “If culls prove to be an effective tool in managing this problem we will apply it for sure. It is illegal in Cyprus to hunt using scuba diving equipment but in this case we are permitting it. We can’t say we’re not worried.”
On an island dependent on tourism, the department is taking measures to inform the public ahead of summer. Although there have been no known fatalities caused by lionfish stings, human contact with the venom is horribly painful as fishermen have discovered pulling catches from nets.
The first cull was held in a marine protected area off Cape Greco on Sunday, with prizes handed out for harpooning the smallest and largest fish.
“The plan is for similar culls to take place twice a month over the next two years,” said Periklis Kleitou, a research fellow at the University of Plymouth, which is helping to coordinate the removal project. “We’re keen to encourage local fishermen and divers to get involved [in the hunt].”
Lionfish, he said, not only had no natural enemies, laboratory dissections had proved they were also furnished with ferocious appetites. “They eat everything. Culling this invasive species is the only effective way to reduce their numbers and ensure marine-protected areas continue to regenerate.”
In addition to removal action teams, surveillance platforms to monitor lionfish were being developed as part of the EU-funded programme. Kleitou said: “This is a regional problem and our insights and knowledge will be transferred and replicated in surrounding countries.”
Global warming and the rise in sea temperatures have encouraged the invasion.
Read the entire article here.