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Old 07-01-2008, 02:43 PM
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Bad news from the Caymans ...


Dr Mustard Column: Lionfish Update
Back in September I wrote an article in this column wondering when lionfish would make it to the Cayman Islands. To re-cap, the Indo-Pacific Lionfish, is not naturally found in the Atlantic Ocean or Caribbean Sea. However, in the early 1990s lionfish, presumed to be released from aquariums, started breeding off Florida and their population has rapidly spread. Initially this invading species was confined to Florida and the Carolinas, but in the last couple of years they have really proliferated and have been seen as far north as New York, as far east as Bermuda and are spreading southwards into the reefs of the Caribbean.

At the end of January I also mentioned the issue during my presentation at the Cayman Underwater Film Festival, asking if anyone had yet seen a lionfish in Cayman. Despite having much of the Cayman diving industry in the audience nobody came forward with information - so I concluded that the lionfish weren't here yet.

Then at the beginning of February, I got an email from Ben Webb, Dive Operations Manager at Reef Divers on Little Cayman. Ben told me that several of his guests had seen a lionfish on Bloody Bay Wall a few days earlier. When it comes to generating reliable data for a scientific study I am wary of trusting diver observations. Just ask any of OF's boat captains to repeat some of the funnier descriptions they are asked to decipher, even with common species like tarpon.

What I really wanted was a photo - the camera never lies and all that. And that was exactly what Ben had. Many thanks to guest Jim Matzke, who grabbed the first shot of a lionfish in the Cayman Islands on Bloody Bay Wall. It may not be technically perfect, but it was a perfect picture for me. Finally, proof of a Cayman lionfish. The second better quality image was taken by Matt Lewis from Reef Photo, Reef Divers of the same fish still on Bloody Bay Wall a couple of weeks later. Ben assures me that this is the same fish and it seems to have grown quite a bit.

So far the Little Cayman lionfish is the only one that has been seen and photographed in the Cayman Islands and the Department Of Environment have already captured it. So if you do see a lionfish anywhere in Cayman waters please take a photo and send me an email. Pictures don't need to be award winners, it is the record that counts. For those keen to learn more, check out Ned DeLoach's excellent article on the subject in the March 2008 issue of Scuba Diving Magazine.

http://www.oceanfrontiers.com/files/...ters-current#3
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