Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans) is a venomous species that has been invasive to The Bahamas for over a decade (since 2004). It was first observed around Eleuthera in 2005 and has since become established around the island and its neighbouring cays. Research has shown that the impact of their invasion has and will continue to have detrimental impacts on marine habitats, especially coral reefs. Due to their voracious appetite and rapid reproduction (potentially up to 2 million eggs per year!), they have the potential to decrease commercially fished species’ populations and alter ecosystem processes e.g food webs. Their ability to do so has been aided by the naiveite´ (unfamiliarity with lionfish) of native fish and the fact that lionfish have no natural predators in Western Atlantic waters. As such, Cape Eleuthera Institute has promoted consumption of lionfish in an attempt to introduce it as a commercially consumed fish. This summer Newcastle University student Myca Cedeno has been conducting a social science study aiming to determine the spread of knowledge Eleutheran residents have on lionfish and consuming them as a means of managing their invasion and contributing to food security.
In April 2014, CEI introduced a Lionfish Slayer campaign, encouraging members of the public to spear lionfish in return for payment; a venture which was met with success. This summer Myca has advertised this campaign and worked to inform Eleutheran’s about lionfish’s nature as a “venomous” and not a “poisonous” species. Through interviews he has documented the views of the public on safely consuming this invader given their deleterious effects on the reefs. Myca has been in the field interviewing fishermen, restauranteurs and other members of the public as part of his dissertation research. His data collection is also coupled with educational outreach, as each interviewee is left with a flyer, detailing the history of the invasion, why it is safe to consume (despite its venomous spines), how to handle and prepare it and what to do if stuck by a spine.
So far, it’s nature as a venomous species has been a major deterrent to consumption for consumers and catch by fishermen. Restauranteurs have highlighted a lack of availability of the lionfish, potentially linked with the apprehension of fishermen to catch them. It is the hope that this research and outreach effort will help further educate the public as to the value of eating red lionfish and will provide insight as to how best to further promote this venture.
Last week the Reef Ecology and Restoration team completed the March monitoring surveys of the 5 year reef study around the patches of Eleuthera. The March surveys usually call for thick wetsuit, hoods and hot chocolate. However, the water was particularly warm at 27oC, resulting in the surveys being completed in record time. Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick has been leading this study since 2012; she now plans to use this incredibly unique and invaluable dataset to thoroughly examine the influences and impacts that the invasive lionfish have on the patch reef ecosystem.
The Reef Ecology team has already begun the process of analysis, and Jocelyn was able to present some of these preliminary findings at the Bahamas Natural History Conference in Nassau earlier in the month. By continuing to spread and enhance the local knowledge within Eleuthera and beyond, the management of the lionfish will hopefully continue to grow.
Of the 16 patches that have been surveyed throughout the study, 8 have been designated as removal sites, and with a highly experienced team we were able to continue our contribution to the culling effort around The Bahamas and wider Caribbean. Stay tuned to hear the full results of our study and a more detailed picture of how the lionfish is making its presence felt around Southern Eleuthera. In the mean time don’t forget, You Slay, We Pay!
The invasion of lionfish on reefs of the West Atlantic has become an issue of critical concern. With eradication not possible, the silver lining is that lionfish are delicious. The You Slay, We Pay campaign was launched by Dr. Jocelyn Curtis-Quick to support the development of a local lionfish market in The Bahamas. The Island School bought lionfish from local Bahamian fishers to consume in the dinning hall.
The slayer campaign initially ran through lobster closed season in 2014, as this is the time of year that many fishers will switch to conch harvesting, which is less lucrative as a fishery and increases pressure on the already overfished species. This trial lionfish season was so successful that in December of 2014 (during the closed grouper season) the lionfish You Slay, We Pay was launched all year round. Over 1500 lbs of lionfish were brought in throughout 2015, with new fishers joining regularly and more lionfish meals being enjoyed on campus. We hope that 2016 sees even more lionfish removed from the reefs and on the plate.
Last weekend, programs from the Cape Eleuthera Institute, including the Reef Ecology and Restoration Team, Sustainable Fisheries Team, Sea Turtle Team, and Aquaponics Program travelled to Governor’s Harbour Homecoming to spread the word about each of their fields.
Many people showed great interest in the lionfish and aquaponics displays. They were amazed at the use of plants to filter the fish waste out of water holding tilapia in the aquaponics system, while others who had never tried lionfish fritters are now converts!
The Sea Turtle Team and Sustainable Fisheries Team also educated the attendees about the protection of sea turtles through some fun word games, and the life stages of conch through a display with varying sizes of shells, ranging from juveniles to adults.
On the night of Halloween, the CEI team put on their lionfish costumes and travelled to the Spooktacular event at the Leon Levy Native Plant Reserve in Governor’s Harbour. The team continued to spread the word about the lionfish invasion with spooky red lights illuminating a tank showcasing a live lionfish, and dyed blue, green and red fritters.
Batman, Spiderman, witches and several zombies came to view the illuminated invasive lionfish, and were served the spooky and tasty lionfish fritters. Those who had never tasted lionfish before enjoyed the delicious fish and gave great feedback, stating they were tastier than conch fritters, even when they were green inside! Next weekend the team will be setting up a booth at the Governor’s Harbour Homecoming, and hope to continue our long term goal of seeing lionfish not just at outreach events, but permanently on restaurant menus throughout The Bahamas.
On October 10, the CEI team headed to Wemyss Bight Homecoming to spread the word about the lionfish invasion. The team was armed with a large batch of lionfish fritters to give everyone the chance to taste these invaders. The booth grabbed lots of attention from a large range of age groups, enticed by the live lionfish in a tank and the smell from the fritters! Most people had the perception that lionfish were poisonous and wanted to know if it was safe to try the fritters. The misconception that lionfish are poisonous is a large problem facing the management of the invasion, as it reduces the demand for lionfish!
After educating people that lionfish were in fact venomous (therefore the meat contained no toxins) and extremely tasty, the fritters were a hit! Earrings made from lionfish fins were also on show, enabling us to increase awareness surrounding the lionfish jewellery market, another great way to increase incentive for the removal of the invaders from reefs. The team will be continuing to attend events like these in the future, passing on knowledge and changing people’s opinions on lionfish.
Dr. Mark Hixon’s PhD students from Oregon State University returned to CEI for a fourth summer of invasive lionfish research.
As part of a long-term project, PhD student Alex Davis, and her field assistant, Kristian Dzilenski (from the University of Rhode Island), observed the home ranges of lionfish on large reefs in order to understand whether different types of habitat affect whether lionfish frequent certain areas of a reef and/or leave a reef altogether. In addition to this continued monitoring, she added an observational and experimental study on the bicolor damselfish (Stegastes partitus) and their interaction with lionfish.
This study was comprised of three components. First, she mapped the location of and tracked growth and abundance of bicolor damselfish on the same large reefs where she monitored lionfish movement. Second, she placed small PVC tubes with tracing paper inside of them called “Tunnels of Love” (TOLs) on the reefs, which allowed her to monitor egg production of the damselfish and determine if proximity to lionfish influences egg production. Third, she conducted a “model bottle” study to see if lionfish affect damselfish behavior. Each damselfish was exposed to an invasive lionfish in a clear plastic bottle, an empty bottle (for control), and a native predator, egg predator, and food competitor, each also in a bottle. The behavior of the damselfish was recorded, and a comparison of how the damselfish react to the lionfish versus the native fish and empty bottle will help us understand if damselfish see lionfish as a potential threat.
Lillian Tuttle is another PhD student from OSU, who visited CEI for 5 weeks this summer. Last summer she discovered that invasive lionfish will eat cleaner gobies, small but ecologically important reef fish that pick parasites off of other fishes. But when lionfish eat cleaners, the lionfish hyperventilates as if it ate something super spicy! She conducted a lab experiment that discovered that lionfish quickly learn to avoid the cleaner goby, meaning that this goby is one of remarkably few native fish that lionfish WON’T eat! But what about native predators? Must they also learn not to eat the cleaner goby, or are they born with an innate understanding that cleaners are friends, not food? Lillian returned to the lab and found that native graysby grouper will eat the cleaner goby and hyperventilate, just like the lionfish. But graysby are slower learners than lionfish, continuing to strike during subsequent exposures to the goby. With these kinds of friends, who needs enemies? It’s no wonder the goby has evolved a defense to makes them distasteful! Now Lillian is collaborating with chemical ecologists to identify the toxin that makes her gobies “spicy,” and she plans to defend her PhD in June 2016.
We wish the both Alex and Lillian a fond farewell and the best of luck with their Ph.D. write ups!
Three months ago, the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) welcomed back Simon Fraser University (SFU), and their 2015 field team of seven researchers. Based in British Columbia on the west coast of Canada (with two more collaborators joining them from the University of Bristol, UK), they made the trip down to Eleuthera to continue their research on various aspects of the lionfish invasion in The Bahamas. From acoustics to nutrient dynamics projects, the summerwas a dynamic one for SFU, filled to the brim with scientific escapades. And the most important thing they’ve learned? Every problem can be solved with cinder blocks and cable ties.
May kicked off with an exciting collaboration between the SFU team and Brendan and Sophie Nedelec from the University of Bristol that delved into the effects of lionfish on the acoustics of a coral reef – are reefs with lots of lionfish perhaps quieter than those with fewer or no lionfish? To tackle this question, the team needed more than keen eyes, and their ears certainly weren’t sharp enough to pick up on any differences. Sophie and Brendan came down equipped with a hydrophone, accelerometer, DJ-like switchboard, and a lot of cords that were loaded onto the boat and brought out to patch reefs to take sound recordings during the day and at night (when lionfish are typically hunting). Continue reading →
The Slayer Campaign has been a huge success at the Cape Eleuthera Institute this year, and we’re well on our way to setting a new record for the total catch this season. The initiative provides the perfect opportunity for local fishermen, while also removing invasive lionfish from the reefs. Here at CEI we always make sure the fillets are passed on to our kitchen staff so that the taste can be shared throughout the community.
The true spearing skills of our local fishermen were recently highlighted by the size of one lionfish in particular, whose total length reached a rather impressive 44 cm. You may remember we recently set an official record here at the Cape Eleuthera Institute with a 42 cm fish. So, when this new record breaker was laid before us on the dissection table, we decided to submit the numbers (and photo to prove it!) to the wider international community of fellow lionfish slayers. We can now proudly announce that our own 44 cm lionfish is the new official record for the whole Bahamas. Great work Dennis Johnson and Leonardo Butler for slaying this fish!
If you’re curious, the world record is currently held at 47.7 cm, so we’re not too far behind! Check out the Lionfish.co website for more details.
While all visiting groups are special to us here at CEI, certain ones touch our hearts in unique and unexpected ways. Akhepran International Academy, visiting us for the first time from Nassau, was one group that made a big impact in their short time with us.
On Monday August 24, 10 students along with 2 teachers arrived from New Providence and jumped straight into the island school life. They had a jam packed day to orient them to our campus, complete with a sustainable systems tour and awesome day one snorkeling.
The rest of the week had a large emphasis on working with our research teams and discussing the implications of their work on our world. Lloyd Allen, head chaperone and a teacher at Akhepran, has a big vision for his scholars and hoped that in their time here they would see the plethora of career options in sciences and engineering and be inspired to pursue their passions.
Some students have dreams of being engineers. These students really enjoyed learning about our aquaponics system with Michael Bowleg and spoke excitedly about going home and engineering their own aquaponics system at home. Others dream of being marine biologists and, after a morning learning about and dissecting lionfish, want to go back to Nassau and tell everyone they know about this invasive species and get them to eat lionfish instead of more commonly overfished species.
These examples are just the beginning of this group’s studies.
Their curiosity, questions, and positive approach to life made them a joy to spend the week with. By the end of the week many spoke about how their perspectives on the ocean had shifted and they had learned to love the ocean they grew up around even more. One student said, “every time a wave hits against me it’s like a kiss from mother nature” and another admitted that she had fears about the ocean, but that swimming in it and “being one with the fish” showed her she didn’t need to be so afraid.
This was truly a week of growth and inspiration, and even though their trip was cut short by threats of a hurricane, we look forward to this relationship and have hopes to visit their school in Nassau in the future.