September 27, 2014

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A juvenile lionfish seems to pose for this first-place photograph taken by Steven Kovacs during a night dive in Roatan, Honduras.

Before 1985,  US divers had some travelling to do if they wanted to see a Lionfish in the wild. But now, most likely as a result of releases by private aquarium owners, Lionfish have spread and have caused native fish populations in a wide area of the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico to decline by up to 80 percent. For example, in the Bahamas between 2008 and 2010 Lionfish succeeded in reducing the biomass of 42 other fishes by an average of 65 percent. By 2013, Lionfish had spread throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, reaching densities well above those in their native Indo-Pacific habitat and, unlike most invasive species, have shown no signs of slowing down. Part of the reason is that Lionfish have no natural predators in the region. Juveniles have been found as far North as New York, throughout the Caribbean, and even out to Bermuda.

The invasion may be “one of the greatest threats of this century to warm temperate and tropical Atlantic reefs and associated habitats,” wrote National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist James A. Morris, Jr., in Invasive Lionfish: A Guide to Control and Management (pdf).

First Place: Portrait Photograph courtesy Steven Kovacs, RSMAS Underwater Photography Contest

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