Conservation and Management Needs in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean

Invasive species can be detrimental to ecosystems by altering habitats, competing with native organisms for limited resources, reducing biodiversity and causing extinctions of native species (Mack et al. 2000; Olden et al. 2004; Clavero and García -Berthou 2005).  The red lionfish (Pterois volitan) and devil firefish (P. miles) are two non-indigenous species to the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico that were first reported in 1985 off the South Florida coast and have since spread across the region.  Lionfish last reached Texas waters, with the first sighting in the Flower Garden Banks off Texas coast in 2011 and recently collected as far inshore channels in 2013. Lionfish continue to increase in abundance and geographic range at an astonishing rate with higher densities than reported for their native environments (Green and Côté 2009).   
Lionfish mature early, reproduce year-round (peak June-July, no spawning occurred at high temperatures of 26-27oC), frequency of spawning is every 3-4 days, and females release two mucous-enclosed egg mass with a mean batch fecundity of 24,630 eggs (Morris 2009).  With no known natural predators in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico and the high reproductive potential, invasive lionfish are a concern to coastal managers and conservation organizations due to their threat to native fisheries resources and biodiversity.  While complete eradication is unlikely, controlling the population may be possible. 

Framework for Action

Regional Strategy for the Control of Invasive Lionfish in the Wider Caribbean

1. Facilitate collaboration,
2. Coordinate research and monitoring efforts,
3. Encourage new legislation and develop regulations and policies,
4. Control lionfish, and
5. Educate and reach out to generate public support

The Regional Strategy is intended to help guide action by stakeholders concerned with, and impacted by, the lionfish invasion. The draft Strategy was developed by members of the RLC and key lionfish experts who met in Puerto Rico on 3–6 September 2012 to initiate Strategy development. Following reviews, the draft was presented at the Fifteenth Intergovernmental Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Convention on 2012.
Lionfish Distribution App: Time-series of Observation Points
The Nature Conservancy is working with federal, and state agencies, fisherman and diving communities and universities in understanding the risk of this invasion in our natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico and communicating these threats to inform decision-making proceses in the Gulf using this online geoviewer.
Database curator: Jorge Brenner, The Nature Conservancy in Texas
Data partners: GCOOS, NAS-USGS, NMS-NOAA, CONANP, Acuario Nacional de Cuba, TAMU-CC, TPWD, UTMSI.

Photo © Jeff Yonover