The lion’s new den: this poisonous fish is moving into the mediterranean

A lionfish (Pterois miles) hunts for food A lionfish (Pterois miles) hunts for food Laura d/Shutterstock
06 Oct
2016
New research finds population levels of invasive lionfish are exploding across the Mediterranean

Marine biologists and divers familiar with the Caribbean and western Atlantic will know all about the problems caused by invasive lionfish (Pterois miles). Far from their native home in the Indian Ocean, a few individuals were infamously released (whether accidentally or intentionally is still up for debate) off the coast of Florida in the early 1990s. Within a decade they were fully established across most of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Eradicating lionfish from this part of the world has become a priority for restoring the health of the regional marine ecosystem.

Braving deep into territory in which many believed they wouldn’t be able to survive, lionfish are now being discovered in increasing numbers in the Mediterranean. ‘The lionfish are expanding fast,’ says Demetris Kletou, Director of the Marine and Environmental Research Lab, a marine environmental consultancy based in Cyprus. ‘Last I heard, they have reached Tunisia.’

Prey is naïve and doesn’t recognise lionfish as a potential predator. It is also possible that potential predators do not recognise lionfish as prey

Kletou and colleagues, working alongside the School of Marine Science and Engineering at Plymouth University, have published their latest research, in which they found this alien and highly venomous species to be rapidly colonising the eastern Mediterranean. Both sea surface warming and the recent expansion of the Suez Canal have allowed the lionfish to colonise almost the entire southeastern coast of Cyprus in just one year.

‘Prey is naïve and doesn’t recognise lionfish as a potential predator,’ explains Kletou. ‘It is also possible that potential predators do not recognise lionfish as prey.’ With this Darwinian advantage, combined with high ecosystem versatility and fast reproductive rates (they spawn every four days, producing around two million buoyant gelatinous eggs per year), lionfish populations are able to grow extremely rapidly. This could lead to a devastating decline of local prey in the Mediterranean, as well as of other local predators who lose out through increased competition for food.

‘These impacts may also be felt by the fisheries and tourist sector,’ adds Kletou. ‘Incidences where naïve divers get stung by its toxic spines may also happen.’ He encourages rapid, targeted removal of the fish to try and stop the spread before it gets completely out of control.

This was published in the October 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Geophoto

November is a dark, quiet month, but it also marks…

Energy

Could human waste one day be fuelling our homes and…

Geophoto

Every year, the LPOTY awards celebrate the best in Britain’s…

Climate

At the 23rd Convention of the Parties (COP) climate change…

Oceans

Knowing where past coral reefs existed is a crucial component…

Oceans

Numerous low-lying Pacific islands have disappeared under rising seas

Oceans

In this exclusive film for Geographical, see how an unusually…

Climate

Marco Magrini considers why the recent devastation caused by hurricanes…

Geophoto

Country borders are some of the most controlled environments on…

Wildlife

Nature reserves and protected areas in Germany have lost 76…

Oceans

An investigation into shark fins and ray gills sold in…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Wildlife

The rapid spread of Asian hornets is likely to make…

Energy

Europe provides more than €112billion (£97billion) in subsidies to fossil…

Oceans

A study of various fish populations has found dramatic reductions…

Geophoto

The seasonal changes of September promise much photographic potential for…

Oceans

Shipping traffic can increase lightning strikes, according to a pioneering…

Polar

New documentary travels to remote Antarctica to unpack the complex…

Oceans

The deaths of these majestic creatures had remained an unsolved…

Wildlife

Over a two-year period, a new species of plant or…