Lionfish threat far worse than many imagine, warns diver
The threat of lionfish decimating local fish stocks is far worse than many Bermudians realise.
Already the species has had an adverse effect on juvenile fish stocks in the Caribbean. And, unless measures to prevent the proliferation of lionfish in local waters are stepped up, expert deep sea diver Graham Maddocks fears the same could happen in Bermuda.
The lionfish is here and the thing that they are doing is wiping out our juveniles that the average person doesnt notice. You dont notice that the juveniles are not there unless you are a scuba diver, he said. As a fisherman you dont notice that the juveniles are not there because you are catching your big fish. But once those big fish are gone then theres nothing to take their place.
With most of the local population focused on current world events such as the ailing economy, Mr Maddocks says not many people are aware of the threat lurking below the water surface.
Some people are saying they dont see them in the shallows, and thats a good thing, he added. This means we still have a chance because the moment you start seeing them up and around the rocks and docks its too late. It means they have built their forces from 200ft and they are filling the water all the way up to the shallows and its a problem thats going to get out of control very quickly.
The insidious thing is this is like a cancer and you dont notice it right away; its eating away very slowly and wiping us out slowly but surely. Its a huge problem that Bermudians are not aware of, and unfortunately human beings only react when its too late.
In recent years Mr Maddocks and his small band of volunteers have become the last line of defence against an invading intruder that has been known to breed at an alarming rate of 30,000 to 40,000 eggs every four days in the Caribbean.
According to Mr Maddocks, lionfish have entrenched themselves at depths of nearly 200ft around the Island and are gradually advancing inshore. The species was first spotted in local waters in 2000 and based on their ability to reproduce quickly Mr Maddocks isnt surprised to see their numbers have swelled in the past decade.
On our recreational dives we are seeing them almost every single dive that we go on and its almost like some sort of horror movie because they are gathering their forces at 200ft and then coming up into the shallows to spawn, he said.
Mr Maddocks believes lionfish have taken a particular liking to the local conditions.
Most of South Shore is fairly plain and is a desolate wasteland but what we find every once in a while is an outcrop of coral or something thats of interest that the lionfish seem to gather, he said. Theres lots of food source there, the water temperature is consistent and theres no swell movement. They just love to sit there and theres hundreds of them down there.
Mr Maddocks and his team of expert deep divers are determined not to allow the situation to get out of hand. To combat the proliferation of lionfish he has formed the Ocean Support Foundation whose volunteers are faced with a daunting task.
The lionfish invasion is the worst environment disaster the Atlantic Ocean has ever faced, he said. Its worse than an oil spill because you can plug an oil leak and mop up all the oil and it dispenses and goes away.
But [the] lionfish is here to stay and the only thing we have as a chance is to try and control their numbers; we have to kill 27 percent of their population just to keep their numbers the same as they are now and its a big task.
We realised this problem is way too much for Triangle Diving and a few individuals to deal with. So we started the Ocean Support Foundation so we could start getting funding so we can go out there [to sea] seven days a week to start knocking their numbers back.
The current methods of regulating the lionfish population Mr Maddocks and his colleagues use range from spear fishing to the use of experimental traps.
To help raise the publics awareness on the potential ecological disaster the Ocean Support Foundation intend to take their message to the Islands various schools and have launched their own website, which can be viewed at www.oceansupport.org.