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Lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles complex) are venomous coral reef fishes from the Indian and western Pacific oceans that have invaded East Coast waters. Lionfish were likely first introduced off the Florida coast in the early to mid 1990s, and by the summer of 2000 were found along the Atlantic coast of the United States from Florida to Cape Hatteras, N.C.
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Courtesy of NOAA

Atlantic Coral Reefs Are No Match for This Lion
News story originally written on July 29, 2008

Red lionfish have beautiful stripes and spines. They live in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. And many of them also live in people’s aquariums. Some lionfish have escaped their aquariums. These pretty fish have gotten into the Atlantic Ocean and are a threat to the coral reefs.

Red lionfish hunt and eat other fish. They can make themselves look like nothing but a drifting clump of seaweed. Smaller fish get herded by what looks like seaweed into a small space. Then the lionfish reveals itself and gobbles the small fish. The Atlantic fish in coral reefs have never seen a hunter like a lionfish before.

Scientist Mark Hixon and student Mark Albins studied the how lionfish affect Atlantic coral reefs at Lee Stocking Island in the Bahamas. The researchers added lionfish to some small reefs while keeping the lionfish out of other small reefs. They identified the types of fish and their numbers in all the reefs before and after they added the lionfish.

The results were shocking. Almost four out of five of the young fish were eaten by the hungry lionfish in the reefs. Most of the other fish eaten by lionfish were young adults, not yet fully mature.

The scientists fear that this could become normal for many Atlantic reef systems. They recommend that people take steps to decrease the number of lionfish soon.

Coral reefs are important to the health of oceans in many ways. They help to prevent shore erosion during storms. They are home for thousands of species of marine plants, fish, and invertebrates. Reefs are a complex balance of species living together. When a dangerous species like the red lionfish is added to reefs, it can cause big changes.

Last modified August 29, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

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