Lionfish Jewelry Update – Caribbean Gulf and Fisheries Institute Conference

I’ve posted previously about the emergence of lionfish jewelry as one of several market-based approaches to controlling the invasion of this non-native species which poses an unprecedented threat to marine ecosystems in the Western Atlantic.

Last month I had the opportunity to make a presentation on lionfish jewelry at a special workshop on lionfish management that was held during the annual conference of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, in Panama. The conference program also included a full-day lionfish research symposium and a lionfish research poster session, both of which gave me an opportunity to learn more about the science aspects of the lionfish invasion and some of the latest findings on lionfish biology and behavior and to meet some of the leading researchers on these subjects.

The lionfish management workshop, which was organized by the United Nations Environment Program’s Caribbean Regional Activity Center on Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW-RC) and the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), brought together marine scientists, managers of marine protected areas, fishermen, and representatives of international organizations to share experiences and lessons learned with respect to strategies for controlling the invasion. Continue reading

Fighting Invasive Lionfish – Update

I’ve posted previously about the lionfish invasion that is threatening coral reef and other marine ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Southern Atlantic Seaboard of the United States. Availability and dissemination of information about the invasion was recently given a big boost through launch of the Invasive Lionfish Web Portal The portal is a collaborative effort of a number of partners, led by the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute. It is a great resource, providing links to a range of information about the invasion, including journal articles, videos, photos, recipes, a Twitter feed, etc..

Another recent development has been the release of a draft United States National Invasive Lionfish Prevention and Management Plan. Developed by the U.S. Government’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, the plan is intended to help coordinate the actions of the various government agencies and other stakeholders involved in dealing with the invasion. While such a plan is long overdue, and in that sense is welcome, I’m quite disappointed that the plan largely ignores, and indeed implicitly discourages, an important element of an effective strategy for addressing the invasion – namely the use of market-based approaches.

As I’ve indicated in my previous posts, the Atlantic lionfish invasion is a unique problem that requires innovative solutions. Continue reading

Citizen Science in Belize – Update on Lionfish Jewelry: Part 1

Freshly dried lionfish fins and tails. Photo: Polly Alford, ReefCI

I’ve written in previous posts about the initiative to develop a market for lionfish jewelry as one of a number of commercially sustainable approaches to fighting this invasive species that is threatening marine ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Southern Atlantic seaboard of the United States. In my last post, I mentioned that the idea is beginning to take off in Belize.  I was able to observe this first-hand last month, spending two and a half weeks in the country.  During my stay I had the opportunity to meet local artists who are making lionfish jewelry and to participate in several workshops to share techniques and designs.  Continue reading

Fiji Shark Dive

Photo Credit: Martin Graf, Sharkdiver.com

Photo Credit: Martin Graf,  Sharkdiver.com

In an earlier post I wrote about how more and more countries are waking up to the benefits of preserving natural capital, in recognition of the economic value that can be derived through ecotourism. I noted, in particular, the value that can be generated through ecotourism ventures focused on iconic species such as sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles. I cited a number of studies and calculations that demonstrate that the ecotourism value of these animals far outweighs their one-time economic value if harvested for food or body parts.

Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to experience one such venture first hand, via the famous Fiji Shark Dive. Over the course of two dives I was treated to the spectacle of 40+ Bull Sharks and dozens of Blacktip and White Tip Reef Sharks, up close and personal!  What an amazing experience to see these magnificent animals – some upwards of 8 feet long –swimming only inches away.  Click here for a video (check out the background music!) courtesy of Martin Graf, one of the pioneers of the Shark Diving industry, who just happened to be in Fiji this week and was along on my dives. Continue reading

Controlling Invasive Lionfish – Update on Market Solutions: Part 2/2 — Lionfish Art

spines and tails-photo3

Array of dried lionfish spines and tails -ready for jewelry use Credit: ReefCI

In Part 1 of this post regarding market-based solutions to fighting the lionfish invasion that is threatening coral reef and other marine ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Southern Atlantic Seaboard of the United States, I wrote about the challenge of developing commercially sustainable strategies for undertaking the systematic removals that are needed to keep lionfish populations under control. I discussed the need to develop a series of vertical markets, pointing to promotion of lionfish as a seafood choice as the most obvious of these. Capture of juvenile lionfish for the aquarium trade as another.  A third market, and one in which I’m personally involved, is use of lionfish spines and tails for jewelry and other decorative items.  Continue reading

Controlling Invasive Lionfish – Update on Market Solutions: Part 1/2

 

I’ve posted previously about the lionfish invasion that is threatening coral reef and other marine ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Southern Atlantic Seaboard of the United States. As I noted in earlier posts, it is the general consensus of the scientific and conservation community that eradication of lionfish from the Atlantic is impossible. There have been some anecdotal reports that native predators such as groupers and snapper are beginning to recognize lionfish as prey, but there is no systematic evidence, as of yet, of widespread predation. So the conclusion remains that human intervention is the only way to keep lionfish populations in check. The good news is that there is growing evidence that systematic removal efforts can indeed be effective in controlling lionfish populations and in reversing their negative impact on reef health. A study published earlier this year found that populations of snapper and grouper rebound by 50-70 percent once lionfish are removed. And it isn’t necessary to remove 100 percent of lionfish for recovery of native fish populations to take place; the study found that reduction of lionfish populations by as little as 75 percent will do the trick. This is important, given difficulties in reaching lionfish at depths beyond the limits of divers.  Also, removal efforts may become more difficult over time, as lionfish on reefs where regular culling takes place begin to wise up and hide from divers (click here for a cute poetic rendition of findings of a study on this behavioral adaptation).

Thus the challenge is to find a sustainable basis on which to undertake the systematic removals that are needed to keep lionfish populations under control. Continue reading

Citizen Science in Belize – Update – If You Can’t Beat’em, Wear’em

Lionfish spine earrings crafted by Palovi Baezar, Punta Gorda, Belize. Credit: Polly Alford, ReefCI

In earlier posts about my volunteer experience in Belize with ReefCI, I talked about the lionfish invasion that is threatening coral reef and other marine ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Southern Atlantic Seaboard of the United States, and noted that, at least for the foreseeable future, human intervention, particularly the establishment of a commercial fishery for the species, appears to be the only solution to keep the invasion under control.

I mentioned the idea of lionfish jewelry as a possible way of increasing the economic return to fisherfolk who may otherwise be reluctant to go after lionfish given the difficulty of catching them (the fish must be harvested by spearing or hand netting rather than through traditional methods such as lines or nets). I’ve been pleased to learn that at least one artisan in Belize has picked up on the idea, using some of the lionfish spines that I collected while I was there. She has already crafted some beautiful earrings (see photo above) and is working on other jewelry items as well as decorative mirrors. Elsewhere, jewelry crafted from lionfish tails and fins is being sold online, and through a retail outlet in Curaçao.  Continue reading

Citizen Science in Belize: Part 2/2 – If You Can’t Beat’em, Eat’em

Photo by Alexander Vasenin

Lionfish sushi – Photo © World Lionfish Hunters Association (click on photo to visit their website)

In Part 1 of this post I talked about the lionfish invasion that is threatening coral reef and other marine ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Southern Atlantic Seaboard of the United States.  Scientists, environmental groups and governments that are studying the problem have all come to the conclusion that it is probably impossible to eradicate lionfish in the Atlantic – they are here to stay. Continue reading

Citizen Science in Belize: Part 1/2

Photo © ReefCI

Photo © ReefCI

It might seem strange to accompany a posting about marine conservation with a photo of a fish on a spear, but in this case, it is entirely warranted.

I recently returned from the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve in Southern Belize, where I spent two weeks working as a volunteer with ReefCI, a NGO dedicated to coral reef ecosystem conservation. Located 30 miles off the coast of Belize on the southern tip of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (the second largest in the world, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef), the Sapodilla Cayes constitute a unique ecosystem.

Along with other volunteers, I assisted the ReefCI marine biologist with population surveys of conch, lobster, and commercial fish species, as well as coral reef health checks. At least one, and sometimes two surveys were carried out each day. The data collected is provided to the Belize Fisheries Department as well as to other cooperating NGOs.

Now about that fish on a spear. One of ReefCI’s projects is lionfish control. Spears Continue reading