Lionfish in the Bay!

Photo by FWC Officer Michael Morrison at Laishley Pier in Punta Gorda on January 31st, 2017

This is so not good! Late last month, FWC officer Michael Morrison observed a lionfish swimming off the Laishley Pier in Punta Gorda. This is the third documented lionfish sighting inside Charlotte Harbor, and it’s also the most up harbor. Laishley Pier is actually on the Peace River.

What’s not good about this beautiful fish? Well, for starters, it doesn’t belong here. Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific, but unfortunately they are well established throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic to North Carolina, and the Caribbean.

The lionfish established here comprise two species, Pterois volitans, the red lionfish and P. miles, the devil firefish. The lions share, 93 percent of those established, are red lionfish. Genetic studies indicate that lionfish in the Atlantic are likely all descendants of a few individuals, which is consistent with the widely held belief that lionfish were introduced into the Atlantic as a result of accidental or deliberate release of aquarium pets. Isolated lionfish sightings were first documented in southeast Florida in the 1980s, and by the early 2000s they were established in that area. They then expanded to the Bermuda (2004), the Bahamas (2005), the Turks and Caicos (2008), the Cayman Islands and the Florida Keys (2009) and the Gulf of Mexico (2010). Today, they are a common sighting on any reef, in the listed areas — natural or manmade, including those off southwest Florida.

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Salty Topics: A Thorny Matter: Invasion of the Indo-Pacific Lionfish in the Western Atlantic

lionfishInvasive Indo-Pacific Lionfish were introduced by aquarium hobbyists to waters off the southeast coast of Florida in the 1980s.  Over the past ten years, these beautiful, ornate fish have rapidly spread across the entire tropical western Atlantic, from North Carolina to Venezuela, throughout the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.  The population sizes in the invaded range commonly exceed those from their native habitats by several orders of magnitude.  With a seemingly insatiable appetite for our native fishes, and a lack of local predators and disease to keep them in check, Lionfish can have detrimental effects on the invaded marine ecosystem.  In this talk, we will review the history of the invasion, discuss the biology and ecology that has allowed them to be so successful, highlight some damaging impacts they can have, and finish with what scientists are doing to combat the problem.

On Thursday, March 3rd, UF/IFAS Extension, Florida Sea Grant at Weedon Island Preserve welcomes Dr. Chris Stallings, University of South Florida College of Marine Science, to present “Salty Topics: A Thorny Matter: Invasion of the Indo-Pacific Lionfish in the Western Atlantic”. The educational program is intended for adult and high school age audiences.

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Salty Topics Seminar Series Kicks off 3rd Year!

GreeningThe Salty Topics Marine Research Seminar Series is excited to Kick off its 3rd year! The UF IFAS Pinellas County Sea Grant Extension series has presented topics such as Red Tide, Fisheries Management, Hurricane Damage Assessment and Prediction, Oil Spill Updates, Real-Time Ocean Monitoring, and More!

The Series will kick off at Weedon Island Preserve, 1800 Weedon Drive NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33702 on Thursday, October 3rd at 6:45pm. Holly Greening, Director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, will present “Restoring Tampa Bay: 25 Years of Progress”.  Register online at

Sunset over Sunshine Skyway

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Crochet Coral Reef, See it before it Unravels!

(With contribution from Savannah Carr, St. Petersburg High School)
The word “crochet” is associated with scarves, sweaters and mittens too warm for Florida.  However, the Crochet Coral Reef has made the handicraft more significant to our local community.

An Amazing Story: Red King Crab Introduced to Barents Sea

50 years later, crab supports a lucrative fishery, but little is known of its ecological impacts

red king crab

Introduced to the Barents Sea in 1960s, the red king crab is now the region’s most lucrative fishery. Photo courtesy Mikhail Pereladov, VNIRO Institute

I have watched innumerable episodes of the TV show “The Deadliest Catch”, the story of Alaskan crab fishermen who risk their lives to bring this delicious prized catch to our tables. However, I had no idea that a large fishery had developed in the Barents Sea based on an introduced species.

In order to increase the “productivity” of the Barents Sea, the Soviet Union decided to introduce these crabs thousands of miles from their native home in the Pacific. In the early 1960s thousands of adult crabs and more than a million crab larvae were released in their prospective new home. At first, the effort seemed like a failure. But by the 1970s egg bearing crabs were found and the population expanded rapidly.

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Stopping Invasive Species in Ballast Water

Green Mussels in Tampa Bay

Green Mussels in Tampa Bay. Sea Grant photo.

Nearly a century after the first documented introduction of an alien species via ballast water, national and international agencies are finally firming up new regulations to reduce the potential for other invasive species to be transferred.

The U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International Maritime Organization — all have proposals on the table that would require ballast water to meet certain standards before discharge. Ballast water can contain many living creatures, including larval forms. Therefore they can be a major avenue for introducing foreign species.

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Lionfish News Flash–Keeps Getting Worse

Last month, electronic subscribers to the Marine Scene got a news flash that local Sea Grant Extension Advisory Committee members had found a juvenile lionfish in 40 ft of water about 8 miles west of Bradenton. At the time this was the first report of lionfish this far north in the Gulf of Mexico. Now there are reports of lionfish even farther north, one on an artificial reef off Escambia County in the Florida Panhandle, and one off Mobile, Ala. In addition, there is now a reported sighting of lionfish in 1,000 feet of water in the Bahamas. This is believed to be much deeper than they are found in their native habitat.

Lionfish at 1000 ftLionfish have now become relatively common in the Florida Keys. A recent lionfish “roundup” produced 554 specimens. These fish are effective predators and we don’t know what the impact will be on native reef fishes. Florida Sea Grant will be involved in efforts to develop a plan to help cope with this problem. However, at this point it is difficult to imagine how lionfish populations can be truly controlled.

Invasive Lionfish in Gulf of Mexico

Researchers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission collected two juvenile lionfish from the Gulf of Mexico. They were caught in two separate net tows 99 and 160 miles off the southwest coast of Florida, north of the Dry Tortugas and west of Cape Romano. Lionfish are nonnative, venomous fish that are rapidly colonizing the entire Caribbean region. Looks like they are now headed our way. The ecological impacts of this invasion are uncertain at this point. Past editions of the Marine Scene have noted research that indicates they may become voracious predators on native reef fish.

Lionfish Decimating Caribbean’s Fish Populations

The spectacularly beautiful Lionfish with its undulating venomous spines is quite the sight to see, but its invasion of Caribbean coral reefs may pose a very serious threat. For the past five years or so, I have been reading about the population explosion of Lionfish in the Caribbean. However, the magnitude of the problem did not strike home until a recent dive trip to the Bahamas. I was surprised to see how common they had become and many divers (professional lobster and sponge divers) told me they had seen a huge increase in abundance in just the last 1-2 years. The Lionfish invasion in the North Western Atlantic and Caribbean represents one of the most rapid marine finfish invasions in history.

Lionfish are not native to the Caribbean and until recently, these were only found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They were documented in southeast Florida beginning in 1992. Since then, they have been reported from south Florida to North Carolina and throughout much of the Caribbean. A recent study found a tenfold increase in abundance in some areas from 2004 to 2008.

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Weeki Wachee Springs Gets a Makeover

The mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs was once an iconic symbol of Florida’s crystal clear springs. Unfortunately, by the turn of the new millennium, excess nutrients and algae growth had reduced the springs to a shadow of their former beauty.

Hopefully, a recently completed restoration will bring the springs back to their former glory. Recently, workers removed 6,130 cubic yards of nutrient laden sediments. Also, blue green algae (Lungbya sp) and other invasive plants were removed and native species were replanted to help improve water quality.

Results to date are impressive. Further evaluation of the results may assist in planning the restoration of other Florida spring systems.

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