Key West Lionfish

Pterois, commonly referred to as the lionfish, has become a difficult species to find in the Indo-Pacific. For those snorkeling in Key West, though, the venomous fish, with its poison-filled spiky fin rays, exuberant pectoral fins, and white, red, black, and cream colored band coloration, has become an all-too familiar sight.

Although not terribly large andndash; lionfish range in size from 2 andfrac12; inches to 16 andfrac34; inches andndash; the lionfish is a notorious predator that has invaded Key West's fragile ecosystem. Marine biologists have studied the stomach contents of over 1,000 lionfish and found more than 50 types of prey inside, anything ranging from baby species, to juveniles, to fully grown adults. The lionfish has no marine predators in Key West, so the fish's population has been able to grow at explosive rates for the last decade. To combat this, scientists have begun going on andldquo;lionfish derbies,andrdquo; diving in to Key West decked out with sharp spears and nets to try and eliminate the predatory species.

The lionfish is a beautiful fish, one that is exciting to see and watch while on a dive. However, commercial fishing and snorkeling in Key West could take a huge hit if this invasive species continues to decimate Florida's coral reef.