A new and dangerous predator
Without trying to whip up any hysteria, I would like to point out that Bahamians should be alarmed about the ever increasing sightings of a new and dangerous predator lurking in Bahamian waters. No, it isn't the great White Shark, but something much smaller called the Lionfish.
The Lionfish made its début in The Bahamas just in the past five years and its overall impact is yet to be properly assessed. Judging by the destruction that it has done in other parts of the world, it's a sure bet that The Bahamas can expect the same treatment from this aquatic demon.
With no known enemies in The Bahamas and an abundance of food, the Lionfish is expected to multiply at an exponential rate. Even at this early stage of its development, the government of The Bahamas must make it a priority to deal with this potential menace as the presence of the Lionfish could adversely affect so many different areas of life in The Bahamas. The Honourable Larry Cartwright, the Minis-ter of Agriculture and Fisheries, needs to make a public statement as to the position of the government on this matter. Failure to do so or to simply ignore this matter could spell disaster for The Bahamas.
The reason why the Lionfish is such an undesirable character is its ability to deliver a painful and venomous sting from a number of dorsal and ventral spines. In humans it can cause a number of bizarre symptoms, including nausea, convulsions, paralysis and even death! It has the ability to inject a neurotoxin into an open wound that results in an intense pain that lasts for days.
The Bahamas being the watersports and dive capital that it is now has the possibility of these industries having to adapt to a riskier operation. This of course could negatively impact The Bahamas' number one industry: tourism. Just one incident with a tourist being injured or, heaven forbid, fatally injured, will be an incident that we will all regret. This could spell the beginning of the end for the Bahamian tourist industry as we know it.
Another reason for concern of what is being described as an invasive species is the fact that it is now competing with Bahamian fisherman for some of the prize catches of the Bahamian seas. Accord-ing to the August 24, 2007 issue of The Nassau Guardian, it was reported by a group of researchers that the Lionfish has an insatiable appetite for snappers and groupers. Also, the possibility of the vital lobster, the pillar of the Bahamian fishing industry, as well. Both the lobster and grouper are already restricted because of the fear of over fishing. This new competition will put further demands on these already strained industries.
The Lionfish has been an attraction for many years. This is due in part to its unique and exotic appearance. Many persons have had them as household pets in their home aquariums. They are indigenous to the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. It is possible that their marketability around the world could have provided some explanation as to why they are now being found so far away from their natural habitat. It is also possible that either through ignorance or intentions, the Lionfish were introduced into the Atlantic. Persons emptying an aquarium tank may have simply thrown the Lionfish into the sea.
I was shocked in Harbour Island just last week when I was told that a dive shop had two Lionfish in its aquarium. However, when I arrived at the dive shop, the Lionfish were nowhere in sight. I was informed that a couple of weeks earlier that they had been released back into the wild. I then requested them to be more specific as to what they meant. Yes, they had been released back into the sea!
At the Grand Bahama Regatta, I did get into a couple of casual conversations about this phenomenon called the Lionfish. But, it wasn't until a few days later when I went to Eleuthera that the extent of the magnitude of the Lionfish problem could be fully appreciated. From Harbour Island all the way down to Wemysis Bight, concerned persons openly expressed their concerns about the flourishing of the Lionfish.
Even in small settlements such as Savannah Sound, I spoke with an individual who claimed that they had recently killed two Lionfish at a reef where the presence of other fish was noticeably absent. Or, Wemysis Bight, where an individual was out looking for lobster, but all he kept seeing "were those damn Lionfish!" Even off the world famous Pink Sand's Beach, the most beautiful beach in the world, snorkelers reported seeing a number of Lionfish near the shores as there are some areas where the reefs come right up to the shoreline.
A couple of days later, I happened to be in Nassau. Once again and without my prompting, another individual brought the subject up with regards to the proliferation of the Lionfish. He also commented that he now wears a full wet suit when he goes spearfishing. The purpose of the wet suit is not protection from the cold, but for protection from the Lionfish that he now frequently encounters in the areas east of Nassau and especially around the Rose Island dive spots.
It is reasonable to predict that surveys done in other areas of The Bahamas will reveal the alarming rate at which the Lionfish are multiplying. This is a situation that must be kept in check; otherwise, it could be something that all Bahamians live to regret. The Ministry of Health needs to establish a protocol and publicize it as to what needs to be done should an individual be the victim of a Lionfish sting.
Other suggestions to help control the Lionfish population includes placing a bounty on captured Lionfish. This will also help to replace income that may be lost by some fishermen due to the proliferation of the Lionfish. Some persons also feel that there could be a market for the Lionfish as a seafood delicacy in some Asian countries. However, what is unacceptable is the widespread sale of the Lionfish as pets, either locally or for export.
The risk of careless or culpable individuals who may re-introduce these demons back into the marine ecosystem should be held criminally liable. Like some other species of marine life, for example those on the endangered species list, mere possession of Lionfish should be made a criminal offence. With the world's third largest coral reef ecosystem being in The Bahamas, the potential devastation from this culprit goes well beyond the borders of The Bahamas!
Dr. Leatendore Percentie
© 2007 The Freeport News