The past several weeks have been a whirlwind of adventure. With there being several different programs here, everyone is busy with either doing field work, data entry, or assisting each other. There is always something to find to do here. The other day, I had gone out to the coral nursery of Acropora (staghorn) and cleared my scuba diving check. Whoot! One step closer to Advance 😀
The staff here are heavily in community outreach. They provide information sessions and programs for the surrounding areas of the research conducted here, what it hopes to achieve, how it affects them directly, and dispel many local myths. In addition, they are beginning to hold monthly meetings for the Bahamian staff so that they are informed and can talk to others who have questions about what exactly is going on the site. One of the more fascinating presentations that I have been to is the one on lionfish. I wrote down several points that I found interesting:
- Lionfish are originally from the Indo-Pacific (That’s the Indonesia region). There are many myths as to how they were brought over such as from the balas of a ship. However, it is more believed that they arrived through the exotic aquarium trade. They are brightly coloured and slow to move, which make them ideal for aquariums. Even though this is true, they are generalists predators in nature in what they eat. Owners began to release them into their backyards or oceans (hoping nature takes its course) when they realized that these creatures were literally eating every fish in their tank that could fit into their mouths.
- Within their home range, there are several organisms that have evolved to eat these fish. For example frogfish. In this part of the world, large predatory fish have not adapted to eating these creatures but we as humans can.
- They are carnivorous and habitat generalists. That is, they can live on the majority of environmental structures from seagrass, mangroves, coral reefs, artificial reefs, and depths up to 1000 ft! Their food source is ANYTHING that can fit into their mouths that protrudes out in a sucking motion. Interestingly, when their in insufficient for them to eat they either migrate to another area and/or resort to cannibalism (eat their own species). Their stomach can expand to up to 30 times the original size.
- With an abundance of food, little to no predation, and ample space, their reproductive systems have changed to fit the environment. Females produce an egg sac with up to 20,000 eggs within it. In the Indo-Pacific, they tend to mate ONCE per year due to the environment and predatory pressures there. In this neck of the woods they can mate EVERY 4 DAYS!! That’s roughly 2 MILLION eggs per fish!
- They are VENOMOUS NOT POISONOUS. What does that mean? It means that they have venom, similar to a snake and its fangs or a scorpion and its tail, in their spines. JUST THE SPINES have venom. Poison is an attribute given to organisms or subject that if ingested can cause mild to severe health issues. For example, some amazon tree frogs or snails. So basically you can eat venomous animals!The lionfish has 18 venomous spines that are harmful. The sting is much like a bee sting, on one has died from a lionfish sting. To treat a sting soak area in hot water. You can serve up the meat anyway you want. I prefer them deep fried 🙂 But whole baked jerk lionfish is also delicious!
Presentations like these are given not only to the visiting groups but also to the local community. This is important to spread awareness and break myths because the lionfish are here to stay. We can never get rid of them all (remember they can have up to 2MILLION eggs per year). It is interesting since we as humans have a tendency to overeat or overhunt something into extinction. All we can do is create a new form of economic value that people can use to create extra income. This is where workshops come into play within the surrounding community and eventually, out into the general Bahamas.
CEI encourages local fishermen to take extra care when spearing. Proper tools for those who wish to pursue this new endeavor of lionfishing are: 3 prong spear to prevent the fish from sliding down onto the fisherman, thick gloves that the spines will not pierce through, equipment to despine and fillet the fish, and a thermos with hot water to pour onto any spot that may get pricked..
There have been jewelry workshops as well for the local community. Here, CEI create an outreach program to encourage a new form of income that is growing in popularity: lionfish jewelry. You can see the work on their blog. To prepare the fins the lionfish must be despined first of all spines. Once this is completed, the spines can be let air dried and baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take them out and let cool. The remainder fins (dorsal, caudal, anal fins) that are on the fish can be removed, and set out to dry. When that is completed, you can decorate and make whatever you want 🙂
Have you every tried lionfish? What does it taste like to you? Would you try it now knowing that it is safe to eat once prepared properly? Let me know below in the comments.