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How Lionfish Threaten Coral Reefs

William Deyesso

Recently retired from the insurance and real estate industries, William Deyesso spends much of his free time deep sea fishing. Over the years, he has fished for such species as red snapper, marlin, bonefish, and mahi-mahi. William Deyesso has also fished for lionfish as part of his commitment to coral preservation.

Featuring long dorsal and pectoral fins, lionfish appear very ornate. Their body is pale with black, red, and brown bands, along with white spots. In most cases, they grow to be about 11 to almost 16 inches and are common in many aquariums.

Despite their appealing look, lionfish are an invasive marine species that threatens the health and existence of coral reefs around the world. Native to the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, and South Pacific Ocean, they have spread to numerous areas in the Western Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. They breed faster than most native fish and female lionfish can lay about two million eggs per year. Since they are also resistant to infection and disease, most of the fish grow into adulthood and live for about 20 years.
Lionfish also have a very large appetite. They are a carnivorous species and are capable of eating fish that are up to twice their size. Further, they aren’t picky about the type of fish they eat and will consume nearly any native species inhabiting coral reefs. As a result of this excessive diet, lionfish throw the entire reef ecosystem out of balance; a single lionfish is capable of eating 80 percent of young reef fish within just five weeks.
If left unchecked, lionfish will destroy many of the reefs around the world. People who build their livelihoods around fishing and coral reefs will be significantly impacted by the death of the reefs; up to 42 million people will economically suffer if these reefs disappear.

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