If you’ve been to an aquarium, chances are, you’ve seen a lionfish, with their colorfully-striped spines along their back like a lion’s mane. As one of the most prized (and poisonous!) salt water aquarium fish, many marine biologists and divers were surprised to discover an alarming increase of the species in the Atlantic Ocean.
In fact, this venomous fish naturally lives and breeds in the Indo-Pacific, an area where the tropical oceans of Indonesia, Indian Ocean and Pacific meet. However, some biologists believe that the surge in offspring near the Bahamas was from six lionfish spilling into the ocean when an aquarium was destroyed when Hurricane Andrew hit the coast of Florida in 1992.
The overpopulation problem stems from the quick and abundant reproduction rate of 4,000 to 30,000 eggs per female cycle. And, since it only takes about a month for these eggs to become fish and they can live anywhere between 5 to 15 years, they dominate coral reef habitats. Since lionfish have few predators, they wreak havoc on other sea life and are a danger to snorkelers and scuba divers.
Yet, scientists hope either parasites or human interest in eating the fish (they are a delicacy in Asia) will help bring the lionfish numbers down and revive Caribbean reefs.