If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em

Habitat degradation and predation by the invasive lionfish are expected to drive down the peppermint goby's (Coryphopterus lipernes) population by more than 30% over the next decade. Photo courtesy of Lazlo Ilyes, https://www.flickr.com/photos/laszlo-photo/.

There’s a growing trend among scuba divers in the Caribbean: they’re on the hunt for something tasty…

Last month, the Glass Goby (Coryphopterus hyalinus) suffered a change in status on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Previously considered of Least Concern to conservationists, this reef-dwelling fish is now listed as Vulnerable. And it isn’t alone. The goby family is huge – having more than 2,000 (mostly) miniscule members – and of the 143 Caribbean gobies that marine biologists have just now assessed for The IUCN Red List, nineteen species are in danger of going extinct. One of these, the Vulnerable Peppermint Goby (C. lipernes) is a widely distributed, but uncommon species, and a population decline of over 30% is predicted over the next ten years.

Habitat degradation and predation by the invasive lionfish are expected to drive down the Peppermint Goby’s (Coryphopterus lipernes) population by more than 30% over the next decade. Photo courtesy of Lazlo Ilyes, https://www.flickr.com/photos/laszlo-photo/.

So who darkens the doorstep of these diminutive demersals? If we go chronologically, the trouble begins with coral reef degradation and destruction, which since 1979 have reduced reef coverage in the Caribbean region by a whopping 59%. And in the mid-1980s, a second culprit arrives just in time for dinner.

No one knows for sure how the fierce and eerily elegant lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) made their way from the Indo-Pacific to the Florida Keys, where they were first documented in 1985. But there are clues: lionfish are a popular saltwater aquarium pet, and their genetic diversity in the Caribbean today is small. The popular theory is that several decades ago, one or more Floridians released a few pet lionfish into the sea, and the rest is history.

With venomous spines, lionfish have few natural predators in their native —> Read More

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