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January 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 43, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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A Social Media Lionfish Hoax

from the January, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly... We all know the song. She ended up swallowing a horse. She's dead, of course!

Tropical Australia is inundated with cane toads, thanks to the bright idea to import them from Hawaii in an attempt to control the cane beetle. Everyone asks whose idea it was to import the fearsome American signal crayfish to Europe. It now poses a threat to native species in lakes, rivers, and ponds. Someone released a Burmese python in the Florida Everglades, and now thousands threaten the wildlife in that wonderful national park. And so it goes on. Non-endemic species introduced to areas where they shouldn't be always cause more problems than they solve.

So when Internet news channels latched on to the latest bright idea from a St. Croix dive shop owner to introduce Indian Ocean anemone fish -- you know, Nemo? -- to local Caribbean waters as an experiment to counter the invasive lionfish population, we sat up and took notice. The idea appeared preposterous, but knowing how stupid the idea seemed, we contacted an expert: Prof. Callum Roberts, awardee of a Hardy Fellowship in Conservation Biology at Harvard University, previously at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara and now in the Environment department of the University of York. His reply was unequivocal.

"All I can do is gasp in disbelief at this story! One destructive alien species in the Caribbean is bad enough. Releasing another potentially invasive species is recklessly irresponsible, flagrantly dumb and highly likely to be illegal. And no, clownfish are not going to solve the problem of lionfish. Clownfish eat plankton."

Eventually, we contacted with Ed Buckley, owner of St. Croix Ultimate Bluewater Adventures, from where the crazy idea had emanated.

It was a hoax. He apologized profusely and told us that it was a silly story fabricated to prove people would believe anything posted on Facebook. He proved his point, but didn't think as many people would take it seriously as they did.

"Our local Department of Fish and Wildlife had their phones lit up all afternoon with calls about it. I even went back to the original Facebook posting when someone asked if we had conducted true aquarium testing on this, and I answered yes, the trials started April 1.†A few people caught on to that. I've had calls from California and as far away as Korea."

If you're one who gets his news from social media, and the last election shows many do, you'd better check your sources before you repeat it.

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