by Hilary Lohmann, Project Coordinator, Friends of the St Croix East End Marine Park
Spring is a great time for enjoying our natural surroundings. April 22 is Earth Day, an internationally recognized day to celebrate environmental protection. We take Earth day to honor our exceptional coral reefs! St Croix is blessed with the largest living reef of any Caribbean island and the second longest barrier reef in the Caribbean. Our reefs provide shoreline protection, recreation, tourism and fish to eat. The benefits abound, but so do the threats. One such concern, the invasive Lionfish, is also highlighted in spring.
Lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles) have become a common sight on Caribbean and St. Croix reefs. They are hard to miss—with reddish/brown and white stripes and fanciful protruding spines, they loiter on reefs and rocky outcrops, areas also favored by snorkelers and divers. They take after their namesake African mammal in several ways. Their fan of fins and spines resemble a lion’s mane and they have an element of danger, as their spines are venomous to the touch. They have a voracious appetite, and in the Atlantic and Caribbean, they are a top predator of other coral reef fish. Just as one would expect if a lion were introduced into your neighborhood, they are wreaking havoc on the Caribbean reef ecosystem.
Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific, where other large predatory fish, like groupers, evolved to prey upon them and keep their population numbers in balance. Unfortunately, they have no natural predators here, and have found an abundance of unsuspecting prey. The way a lionfish swims and hunts is unique and not found in other species in the Caribbean making it hard for prey to recognize it as danger, and hard for predators to recognize it as food.
Caribbean reefs are already under an unprecedented number and degree of pressures including land-based pollution, unsustainable fishing, as well as coral bleaching, ocean acidification, and disease outbreaks catalyzed by climate change. In a vulnerable underwater world, coral reef species face exacerbated pressure from Lionfish that feast upon the smorgasbord of prey options they find here, particularly juvenile fish and crustaceans, and have cascading effects on reef foodwebs.
May 15 is Lionfish Awareness Day! All over the southern Atlantic and Caribbean, people are rallying in support of coral reefs by taking a stand against Lionfish. Local derbies and hunting trips reduce the populations while training workshops demonstrate safe handling and cook-offs provide a chance to taste the delicious, meaty monster. Mid-May is a time to gain knowledge and take action against invasive Lionfish. The more knowledgeable our public and visitors are, the more resources we can assemble, and the bigger impact we can have.
If you see a lionfish while snorkeling, report it to the CORE (corevi.org) hotline (340) 201-2340. If you see it in a marine protected area, report it to the managing agency (East End Marine Park at (340) 718-3367; Buck Island Reef National Monument, National Park Service at (340) 773-1460).
If you are more ambitious, take of lionfish is legal and encouraged in all open fishing areas of St. Croix. Dive shops can help you get involved by offering lionfish hunting trips with the necessary gear. Lionfish are not generally aggressive, but contact with their venomous spines (even after the lionfish is deceased) can cause pain, redness and swelling.
So go ahead, help your reefs and hunt a lion!
Just keep these tips in mind:
- Be certain of your identification! Some Scorpaena spp. (Scorpionfish) and Equetus spp. (Drums, Jackknife fish) have been mistaken for lionfish.
- Take care not to touch or injure coral when capturing or killing lionfish.
- Don’t feed them to the sharks; leave them on theseafloor for predators to find naturally.
- Handle them with care; you may want to use a specially designed lionfish ‘keeper’ for transporting them.
Friends of the St Croix East End Marine Park support the programs and mission of the St Croix East End Marine Park (STXEEMP). By promoting responsible recreation, enhancing community outreach and education, and improving compliance, Friends of STXEEMP is dedicated to conserving and managing the valuable, and vulnerable, marine ecosystems of today for tomorrow.
For more information, please contact [email protected].
The Friends of STXEEMP and DPNR are hosting an Earth Day Beach Day, Friday, April 22, on the shores of the East End Marine Park! A beach clean up will start at 9 am, and the Park’s mobile learning lab, the EcoVan, will be on hand. Family activities may include ocean trivia, coloring books for kids, treasure hunt and beach games. Feel free to bring a picnic and make a day of it at the beach; Come enjoy your marine park! Let’s do our part in helping to create a greener, more sustainable future for St. Croix.
Conserving our Coral Reefs on Earth Day and Lionfish Awareness Day
Friends of the St. Croix East End Marine Park
(340) 718-3367 • [email protected]. • Facebook
East End Marine Park Location & Management Zones, see St. Croix Map.