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May 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 41, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Latest Hope for Fighting Caribbean Lionfish?

from the May, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

It's Caribbean reef sharks, and the desire that they'll start to hunt the invasive lionfish on their own without human help. Underwater photographer Simon Morley was diving at Split Rock, a shark hangout in Grand Cayman's East End, and snapped a picture right when a lionfish swam by and was snatched up into a reef shark's jaws right before his eyes. Several sharks then tussled over the catch, and as Morley told local news station Cayman 27, the behaviors he witnessed had no human interference at all. "From what I saw of the lionfish, it wasn't injured or in distress or anything like that. It appeared to be perfectly healthy, so from the looks of it, the sharks were in and actively hunting and pursuing the lionfish."

A bright light in the battle against the lionfish invasion? Not so fast, says Lad Akins, of the marine conservation nonprofit REEF. Predators eat things, even a lionfish from time to time, "but there is absolutely no evidence that this is increasing in frequency or occurring at a level that will control lionfish populations."

However, Akins warns that divers and snorkelers shouldn't become too carried away in killing lionfish. Also last month, Cayman's Department of Environment publicly warned that feeding fish is against the law, even if the meal is the invasive lionfish. It came after a new video making the rounds on social media shows a grouper snatching a lionfish right out of a diver's hand. Divers had captured the lionfish in a plastic bag, and were looking for a grouper to feed it to when one came out of nowhere, repeatedly going for the snack until the diver eventually freed the lionfish from the bag.

Feeding marine life conditions them to associate divers with food, and cullers should only take lionfish if they have a proper container to store the fish. If the grouper had ingested the plastic bag, it could have been killed. "Due to actions like that, feeding predators is not an activity we want to encourage," says Akins.

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