Lionfish becomes the new threat for marine life in Mediterranean | Pakistan Today

Lionfish becomes the new threat for marine life in Mediterranean

After colonising parts of the Atlantic on the east coast of the United States and the Caribbean, lionfish are now invading the Mediterranean.

Armed with venomous dorsal spines and fan-shaped pectoral fins, the exotic looking lionfish, a favourite at aquariums, has no known enemies in the Mediterranean.

The reef fish, whose sting is painful but not deadly, is native to the Indian Ocean.

But an outbreak in the Mediterranean has scientists, fishermen and divers so worried that they have launched a campaign to reduce its numbers.

The lionfish first appeared in the waters off Cyprus in 2012, Louis Hadjioannou, research director at Enalia, told AFP.

“Since then it has spread everywhere,” he said. “All over the island, almost wherever you dive you can now see the lionfish in masses.”

The lionfish has also been sighted off the coasts of Greece, Turkey and Tunisia.

The lionfish’s “exponential rise” in the area was facilitated by the widening of the Suez Canal — completed in 2014 — and warming regional water temperatures, according to Jason Hall-Spencer, a marine biology professor at Britain’s University of Plymouth.

The lionfish has also been sighted off the coasts of Greece, Turkey and Tunisia.

“The invasion is underway” in the eastern Mediterranean, said Demetris Kletou, director of the Cyprus-based Marine and Environmental Research Lab.

The lionfish’s “exponential rise” in the area was facilitated by the widening of the Suez Canal — completed in 2014 — and warming regional water temperatures, according to Jason Hall-Spencer, a marine biology professor at Britain’s University of Plymouth.

The cooler waters of the western Mediterranean, he said, have largely been spared for the moment.

Along with habitat loss and overexploitation, invasive species are among the top five leading causes of biodiversity loss across the globe, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Such a loss disrupts ecosystems and the human activities that depend on them.

Since the 1980s, the lionfish has caused “significant damage” to the US and Caribbean coastlines, said marine biologist Carlos Jimenez, a senior research coordinator at Enalia.

Environmental research firm VertigoLab estimates the lionfish invasion in the French West Indies — a string of seven small islands in the Caribbean — has cost “more than 10 million euros ($12 million) per year”.

Local fish are easily caught off guard by the adept predator.

In two years, lionfish in the western Atlantic have reduced 40 species of coral reef fish by about 65 percent, according to a 2012 study funded by Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

Fishermen’s catches of certain species, including grouper, have slumped accordingly.



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