Mediterranean Lionfish Invasion

Lionfish

This Mediterranean lionfish was one of six hunting together today under a cluster of boulders off Turkey’s Datça Peninsula.  Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

I mention in an earlier post that 130,000 years of human civilization in the Eastern Mediterranean might be a factor in explaining why I have seen so few fish underwater during my first month of exploring this coastline in Flying Fish.

In fact, the species loss here has been exacerbated in only the past decade and a single predatory fish may bear some of the responsibility. The first lionfish in the Mediterranean was officially reported in 2012. Other divers have seen them even earlier. Still, these fish originating from the Indian Ocean are newcomers to the neighborhood. Now biologists fear the population of this predator with virtually no natural enemies may be out of control in the Mediterranean as it is elsewhere in the world.

Marine biologists with the Cypriot Enalia Physis Environmental Research Centre say lionfish first appeared in the waters off Cyprus in 2012. Since then the number of lionfish has exponentially increased not only in Cyprus but now also in Turkey and around some of the southern Greek islands. “Wherever you dive you can now see the lionfish in masses,” reported Louis Hadjioannou, research director at Enalia.

The Mediterranean invasion of lionfish resembles that of the western Atlantic Ocean. Lionfish were first recorded off the coast of Florida in 1994, but only 20 years later it was estimated that there were up to 1,000 lionfish per acre of coastline. A female lionfish can produce two million eggs a year. Marine biologists say they could be reducing Atlantic reef species diversity by up to 80%.

The lionfish’s “exponential rise” in the Eastern Mediterranean was facilitated by the widening of the Suez Canal—completed in 2014—and warming regional water temperatures, according to Jason Hall-Spencer, a marine biology professor at Britain’s University of Plymouth. The cooler waters of the western Mediterranean, he reported, have largely been spared of lionfish for the moment.

Culling lionfish for food has helped reduce their numbers in other parts of the world. I have yet to see a lionfish in a Turkish fish market but stranger things make their way to the dinner table here–Koc Yumurtasi (ram’s testicles), for example. I look forward one day soon to preparing whole fried lionfish to my new Turkish friends.

lionfish cooked

Whole fried lionfish prepared by the Miami restaurant Fish Fish.  Credit: foodrepublic.com


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14 thoughts on “Mediterranean Lionfish Invasion

  1. I always learn from your blog postings. Thank you for that. I went to a Lionfish demo in Dinner Key on how to handle, prepare and eat these fish. It was very good. I wish worldwide it would become a highly sought after food. That would help.
    Great post. Thank you.
    Hayden

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hayden: Thank you, as always, for commenting.
      I have caught and eaten lionfish in Florida and it is delicious. I have also poked myself in the finger with a venomous spine and my hand swelled up like I had been bitten by a rattlesnake. All good things come with a price!

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    • Thank you Jeff. When I am sailing again I always think well of you and those final crazy days of building this boat. Best wishes, and wherever you are I hope that you are happy and healthy.

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  2. Great photo and reading Jeff as always! Many, many Lionfish here in Pensacola Beach! The 1st Saturday after Mother’s Day every year is The Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day festivals! It is a day filled with activities including How to cook Lionfish, how to filet and many more activities! Very popular here! Thanks Jeff for all your amazing photos and journalism!! 🐙

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Leanne. The Gulf of Mexico is your backyard. It will take a careful natural balance in every part of the earth’s oceans to sustain the remarkable diversity we have today. Enjoy it and protect it.

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  3. Great article, Jeffrey. Mankind puts extreme pressure on all animal species, and then you figure in predators and invasive species, it becomes a fragile balance. I noticed years ago the lack of fish in certain poorer regions and then it started to happen even here in our Florida Keys. We always react when an event reaches crisis proportions; sometimes it’s too late.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul, Your comment is spot on, as English speakers say here. We become complacent about so many things—politics, health care, social interaction—until they reach crisis level and then chaos ensues. I used to think that grass root initiatives could address these issues before they flame out of control. I’m not sure now. I do believe that there is power in knowledge. We need to listen, learn, and share.

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  4. Jeffrey – what a timely post! I had never heard of a lionfish until I visited Bill in Cuba where I also met you. We were on the ocean in a fishing boat and I caught a fish. I was so excited! I went to pull in the fish with my hands and the captain and the mate were all screaming NO NO NO!! Probably saved my life – they took the fish home to eat. What a fascinating trip you’re on – thanks for sharing the posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Harv, the Cubans knew that the spines of lionfish would inject venom. They also knew that the fish would provide food for their families. There is a cultural awareness of lionfish in many parts of the world but here in the Mediterranean many people who see it for the first time think it is just another pretty fish.
      Thank you for your comments.

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