Effect of Lion Fish on Reefs

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The Invasion of Lionfish
Did you know that almost eighty percent of the fish living on a reef could be killed by a single fish that is only about the size of a human hand? This fish happens to be called the lionfish and is mostly known for its beautiful features and deadly poison. Lionfish are indigenous to the Pacific Ocean; however, they have recently invaded the Atlantic Ocean and are growing in population at an uncontrollable rate. Marine biologists and even everyday snorkelers fear the dangers of these fish and have even started taking the matters of getting rid of them into their own hands. On the other hand doctors, chefs, and even snorkelers consider lionfish to be very useful and entertaining. According to marine biologists, the invasion of lionfish into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean is having a deadly effect on coral reefs and marine life. Scientists state that lionfish are only destructive creatures, but doctors, chefs, and divers argue that lionfish are also beneficial. Not only do lionfish make beautiful pets and boost the tourism of places like the Bahamas, but doctors are even saying that the venom produced by a lionfish could one day help cure cancer. The average lionfish ranges from six to twelve inches in length (Scorpion fish). Although

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very small, the lionfish is known for their violent attacks on prey, and long, wavy tentacles that resemble the mane of a lion. The lionfish is indigenous to the Indo-Pacific Ocean, but over the last few years it has taken over the Atlantic Ocean (Dornfeld 1). Many people wonder how this fish could end up thousands of miles away from its original habitat. Although the exact reason why lionfish arrived in the Atlantic Ocean is still unclear, there are many possible theories. According to Ann Dornfeld, “In 1922, Hurricane Andrew smashed an aquarium tank in Florida. About a half-dozen spiny, venomous lionfish washed into the Atlantic Ocean, which spawned the invasion” (Dornfeld 1). In the following years, single lionfish were spotted very rarely, but people neglected to take notice of these non-native fish because they had never seen them before. It was not until 2007 that scientists began to notice a large increase in the population of these fish (“Deadly” 1). University zoology professor Mark Hixon said that “in 2005, the first lionfish showed up and we didn’t pay much attention to them. The next year, we saw a few more. Then in 2007 there was a population explosion, and we had no choice but to start studying these fish because they were eating the fish we were studying” ( qtd. in Dornfeld 1). This small accident, which released only a few lionfish into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, may end up being the most detrimental thing that has ever happened to the Atlantic Ocean (Hixon, Albins, Redinger 1).

Since 2005, the population of the lionfish has increased substantially, and is quickly growing out of control (Hixon 2). The reproduction system of the lionfish is very unique and plays a key role in their recent population boom. A female lionfish is capable of releasing four thousand to thirty thousand fertilized eggs at one time(“Diving with Lionfish” 3). These eggs survive for days and often flow with the currents dispersing the eggs over a vast region (“Deadly”1). This explains how the lionfish have dispersed over such a large area: their eggs are often carried hundreds of miles in currents. Only four days after fertilization, the lionfish is already a skilled swimmer and hunter (“Diving with lionfish” 3). Also, “lionfish quickly bulk up and develop large body size early in their life cycle. This early maturity makes them more likely to avoid attack by predators and increases the chances of them mating successfully” (“Diving with lionfish” 3). According to Hixon, another major factor allowing lionfish to multiply in such great numbers is their lack of natural predators. Lionfish have thirteen extremely venomous spines, which offer...
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