[Coral-List] Lionfish invasion

Douglas Fenner douglasfenner at yahoo.com
Wed Jan 26 15:18:02 EST 2011

     This is long, so don't read it if you're not interested in the problem of 
introduced species.
     Rudy is certainly right that the lionfish were introduced.  But since their 
introduction in Florida, they have invaded the US east coast at least up to 
North Carolina, and invaded much if not all of the Caribbean.  So the species is 
not only introduced, but invasive as well.  There are introduced species that 
don't invade, many harbors around the world have a variety of species that have 
been introduced accidentally on ships, but they are species that do well in 
harbors (which helps the ships pick them up), but don't do as well outside of 
harbors so don't invade widely.  The Caribbean and Florida already have an 
introduced coral, Tubastraea coccinea, which subsequently invaded the rest of 
the Caribbean and Florida.  So far there aren't reports that I know of 
documenting it doing damage there, but it is also been introduced into Brazil, 
where it is displacing native species.  Another species of Tubastraea from the 
Pacific has now been found on oil rigs in the Gulf.  Scientists have been part 
of the problem, deliberately introducing some things like a few mushroom corals 
to Jamaica (luckily those haven't been a problem yet).  Hawaii has hundreds of 
introduced marine species, and a soft coral (Carijoa reesii) has spread, 
covering and killing black corals.  An introduced red sponge is also spreading 
in Hawaii. 

     For perspective, it is my impression that in terrestrial habitats, humans 
have introduced many species, and some have done a great deal of damage.  I 
don't think that nature has a good record of adapting.  Australia could be a 
poster child for the problems of introduced species.  Plagues of rabbits and 
prickly pear cactus are well known examples, but far from the only ones.  
Introduced cats spread to cover the continent in about 100 years.  Introduced 
foxes and cats have exterminated many native species, and Australia has had more 
native mammals go extinct than anywhere else on earth, I've read.  Introduced 
foxes and cats surely did much of that damage.  Some Australian mammals only 
survive in Tasmania, where until recently there were no foxes, now Foxes have 
been introduced to Tasmania.  In North America, several insects have been 
introduced that spread fungus that kill trees, which have done lots of damage.  
An introduced oppossum from Australia has done major widespread damage in New 
Zealand.  The brown snake introduced into Guam has eaten the eggs and chicks of 
almost every bird there, nearly extinguishing the native Rail, and made mornings 
silent when they used to be full of bird song.  The list goes on and on.  Some 
introduced species populations explode because the predators and disease that 
held them in check where they came from, didn't come with them.  Some control 
programs have tried bringing in diseases or parasites to control them, but they 
must be very very specific to only the target introduced species.  Some such 
introductions have worked.  Some introductions have been well-meaning but 
disasterous, like mongeese to control introduced rats, cane toads to control 
cane beetles, and predatory snails to control introduced snails.  In each of 
these cases, the species introduced to control another didn't eat what they were 
supposed to control, but themselves spread out of control, often eating 
endangered native species and causing far more problems.  Species should never 
be introduced to control others without extensive testing and proof that they 
won't harm other native species.
     Introduced and particularly invasive species are one of the greatest 
problems in ecosystems today, along with things like habitat destruction, etc.  
Coral reefs have gotten off relatively light up to now, but now that's over.  
Will some aquarist release their Indo-Pacific coral into Florida waters, 
complete with a disease or parasite that then spreads and does serious damage?  
Was the disease that killed the Diadema urchins all over the western Atlantic 
introduced?  Will lionfish start exterminating species of small rare fish on 
reefs like foxes and cats did with mammals in Australia??
      Invasive introduced species are anything but innocuous.  Very few have 
been controlled, and only one or two have ever been eliminated I believe (I 
believe prickly pear cactus was eliminated from Australia by the introduction of 
a moth that eats the flowers).
      This is a very serious problem with few answers once the species have been 
introduced.  The key is to stop them from being introduced, which is why Customs 
in almost every country inspects everything they can, and bringing almost 
anything alive into a country is illegal without a permit.  It is very very 
important work.  Introduced agricultural pests (like the Medfly in California) 
can do billions of dollars of damage very quickly.  Ships are difficult to 
inspect sufficiently to catch introductions, many can occur by the ballast water 
inside them, but also in several other places on the ship.  Aquarium species 
like lionfish are generally allowed into countries without restriction (other 
than a CITES permit needed for corals), because they haven't been problem 
invasive species until now.


 Douglas Fenner, Ph.D.
Coral Reef Monitoring Ecologist
Dept Marine & Wildlife Resources
American Samoa

Figures on Global Climate Show 2010 Tied 2005 as the Hottest Year on Record

"New government figures for the global climate show that 2010 was the wettest 
year in the historical record, and it tied 2005 as the hottest year since 
record-keeping began in 1880.  It was the 34th year running that global 
temperatures have been above the 20th-century average; the last below-average 
year was 1976. The new figures show that 9 of the 10 warmest years on record 
have occurred since the beginning of 2001." 


From: Rudy Bonn <rudy_bonn at yahoo.com>
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Sent: Tue, January 25, 2011 8:55:00 AM
Subject: [Coral-List] Lionfish invasion

A lot of issues seem to be involved with this so-called, "invasion" which is a 
term that I find disconcerting.  The lionfish did not invade our waters, they 
were introduced by humans who apparently lacked the common sense to realize what 
the possible consequences could be.  I know also that some folks claim that the 
initial release was brought about as the result of Hurricane Andrew destroying a 
private aquarium containing lionfish-- anectodal information too, I might add.  
The fact is, as many of you have pointed out, is that the lionfish are here to 
stay, and we can only hope that nature will adapt, she has a pretty damn good 
record of doing so!  This also underscores the need for education and outreach 
programs aimed at people who buy exotic pets; something that requires more 
regulation, but I doubt that this would do much good as long as their is money 
to made by someone!  It is a sad fact Jim, and I agree with you 100 percent, 
perhaps some day we
will recognize the consequences of our actions, until that occurs, we will 
continue to experience these types of behaviors from humans, and we will 
continue to upset nature's balance that was in pretty good shape until we came 

Rudy S Bonn
Director of Marine Projects
Reef Relief
631 Greene Street
Key West, FL 33040

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