Seventeen Years of Lionfish, Now in the Keys

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This past Tuesday lionfish successfully leaped into the Florida Keys. A recreational diver spotted a lionfish on the Benwood Ledge, just off of Key Largo’s coastline, and reported the sighting, along with a digital image to confirm identity, that quickly prompted a recovery operation. A team from REEF, NOAA, and FKNMS were able to recover the fish and dissected it topside after catching it at 66′.

The first sighting of a lionfish in the western Atlantic was recorded in Florida waters in 1992. Since then the fish have popped on and off the news grid and the minds of the public but have steadily increased their presence in Caribbean waters and even in the Gulf of Mexico. As of last year they have been reported from several countries, including: US, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Cuba, and even in Belize.

Besides the obvious trouble of venomous spines, lionfish are quick and efficient predators without known predators for themselves in Florida waters. Their predation on native wildlife, including juveniles from endangered species like Nassau grouper, is a serious consideration for Florida wildlife.

REEF, FKNMS, and NOAA plan to launch a public outreach campaign to raise awareness of lionfish within the Florida Keys community and especially the diving community. Divers are encouraged to take note of the numbers above and to report lionfish sightings immediately to help organizations limit their presence in the Keys.

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