Cyprus has launched a cull to eliminate to reduce the number of lionfish in its waters. The invasive species spreads rapidly and represents a danger to the ecosystem in which it lives.
“I can’t overstate how serious a problem this is for the whole of the Mediterranean,” says Jason Hall-Spencer, a professor at the University of Plymouth. “Lionfish are the most damaging invasive fish we have ever seen. If action isn’t taken there will be lasting environmental and economic damage.”
The lionfish is native to the Indian Ocean but since the 1990s its population is regularly seen in Mediterranean waters, especially on the Turkish, Cypriot and Greek coasts. Extremely voracious, this fearsome hunter tracks his prey before sucking them. It threatens the biodiversity today in the environment in which it leaves, confirms Louis Hadjioannou, research director at the Cypriot institute in Enalia, “It is a very invasive species that reproduces very quickly and spreads very quickly and takes over.” A female can lay nearly 30,000 eggs every 4 days.
Europe is not the only area affected, some twenty years ago, several specimens were accidentally released from a Florida domestic aquarium. The species then spread all along the Atlantic coast, as well as in the Caribbean Sea. Eventually, it could threaten 80% of endemic species in these areas, according to a report from Oregon State University.
With 17 poisoned spines, it discourages most predators and its bites cause in humans pain lasting up to 24 hours and discomfort that can be dangerous in the water. To fight against the invasion, Cyprus encourages spear fishing and invites restaurants to put them on the menu. For its part, Honduras is trying to train sharks to devour lionfish.
In 2016, an American team of roboticists were also working to develop a robot able to travel in deep water to eliminate the lionfish. The robot will be equipped with two arms at the end of which are placed electrodes. When between these two arms, an electric shock will be stun or kill the lionfis. Once neutralized, the fish will be recovered to be placed on the stalls of the fishmongers and to finish on consumers’ plates.
The “exponential” number of lionfish in this region is explained by warmer temperatures and the expansion of the Suez Canal since 2015, which connects the Mediterranean with the warmer Red Sea, facilitating the arrival in the Mediterranean waters of fish from elsewhere.
Invasive species is one of the top five causes of biodiversity loss worldwide, along with human over-exploitation of resources, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They disrupt ecosystems and the human activities that depend on them