Long treasured by aquarists for their spectacular features, the Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans) was introduced over 30 years ago into the western Atlantic Ocean, where it has caused tremendous ecological damage. Lionfish are voracious fast-growing predators of small fishes, and are reaching larger maximum sizes and substantially higher densities in invaded regions than they do in their native Pacific. Populations of this invasive species, unchecked by natural predators or disease, have spread and grown to the point that they threaten reef communities throughout the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and southeastern coast of the United States.
Lionfish have been described as one of the greatest threats to Belize’s marine environments, which include some of the Caribbean’s most spectacular and productive reefs. Unfortunately, basic data on lionfish populations in Belize’s coastal waters are lacking, which has made it impossible to develop, implement or evaluate management targets and action plans.
To address this critical need, the non-profit conservation organization, Blue Ventures, initiated a data collection program in 201x, whereby trained divers would observe, count and map the distribution of invasive lionfish and other aquatic species along permanently established transects at fixed time intervals. Blue Ventures has also conducted outreach to local communities and persuaded local fishermen to harvest lionfish, which have gained a reputation as high quality table fare. The ultimate goal is to suppress and maintain lionfish populations at levels where their impact on native fish communities is insignificant.
Owing to the success of their data collection program, Blue Ventures amassed a considerable quantity of data. They approached Ecologists Without Borders seeking help with the statistical analysis and interpretation of this information. They also asked EcoWB to arrange for an independent peer review of the recently written (draft) document, entitled “Managing Invasive Lionfish in Belize’s Marine Protected Areas” (Chapman et al; in review). EcoWB, in turn, recruited several volunteers to undertake the quantitative analysis and peer review. Work on this phase of the project, led by EcoWB Board member Dr. David Fornander, is expected to be completed in late 2017.
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