by Natalie Novak Perez (March 2013)
Natalie took the pictures at 55 feet on Motorcycle Reef in Akumal.
Lionfish are a problem—they are bad for the reef and it is heartbreaking to see them sitting on the reef I dive every day, just swallowing up fish. Some local divers have organized lionfish hunting dives that Ivan and I proud to be a part of. The goal of these dives is to have a group of experienced locals dive together to safely take as many lionfish as we can off our local reefs in and around Akumal.
This is no easy task, as it combines all the challenges of diving with the danger of carrying and using a spear, hunting and underwater transport of venomous fish.
While hunting lionfish your brain says, "Must find lionfish! Is there one here? What about here?" When what you should be doing is... 1) Remember to breathe. 2) Check your air. 3 Maintain a reasonably close distance to your buddy. 4) Check your depth and time to be sure to avoid no decompression limits. 5) Be sure to use your buoyancy to stay off the coral. 6) Avoid being stung by lionfish (it really hurts). And the last priority on a diver's list should be: KILL LIONFISH! So, yes, I would say this activity involves some multitasking!
Lionfish are an invasive species from the Indo-Pacific Ocean. We think they were introduced to the Atlantic Ocean by accident, possibly from fish tanks in a hurricane. But now they are here in the Caribbean and they seem to eat everything that will fit in their mouths. Since they did not evolve in the Caribbean, here they have no natural predators. They fan out and corner anything that fits in their mouths, or hide by looking like a plant, then just swallow their prey. They are not just great hunters but also are poisonous. Most of their feathery fins contain long, clear spines they use to inject neurotoxin into their attacker. They use this for self-defense, but they are not aggressive.
Do not approach lionfish. When I approach a lionfish it will spread out, as if to say, I do not need to swim away because I am venomous! When I continue to approach them with my spear, they will move out of my way just before the spear would touch them. Often my approach frightens them and they move quickly under a coral head. A lot of the time I find them near holes and caves. They also seem to like to hang out at underwater cleaning stations. Only instead of being cleaned, they eat the fish that would try and clean them.
The best solution we have found to the problem of lionfish is to hunt and eat them. So please, next time you eat seafood, ask for lionfish. You may be eating one I caught!
Dive with Natalie & Ivan