Dr. Craig Layman’s presentation asked the question: “What if we are wrong about the lionfish invasion?” Looking at what an invasive species represents, Dr. Layman wanted to know if lionfish are truly causing severe harm to the marine environment because globally it is regarded as one of the most severe environmental threats in the Western Atlantic.
He did identify lionfish as predators that were first documented in 1985 in Dania Beach, FL. In 2004, they were able to cross over into The Bahamas. Dr. Layman shared widely known facts that lionfish reproduce rapidly, and that there are not many known predators that eat lionfish. He also discovered that they tend to colonize around oil rigs in large numbers.
Many people are studying the lionfish, he said. However, in his research the question remained whether or not native prey in Caribbean environment recognize lionfish as a threat. After carrying out an experiment, the underwater video recording clearly showed that native prey are naïve to the threat of lionfish as they turned their backs to the lionfish in the compartmentalized cage.
In studying the lionfish, it was observed that they blow jets of water at their prey before moving in to consume them, and like groupers and large-mouth bass, the lionfish appear to use a suctioning function to suck fish into their mouth.
Moving to the heart of his presentation, Dr. Layman revisited the question of lionfish causing environmental harm or if lionfish actually alter prey communities. The experimental evidence did indicate that there was an 80-percent reduction in juvenile fish densities in five-week study. However, Dr. Layman warned that studies at a small scale may not paint a true picture of the impacts of lionfish on entire ecosystems.
“So if the lionfish are not causing harm, should we be investing so much time and resources into addressing them,” he asked. “Should lionfish be a priority in our conservation efforts? Conservation is about priority and what is most important to address.”
He surmised that lionfish are here to stay because of their incredible range of habitat coupled with their incredible reproduction capabilities. He said that small-scale lionfish derbies help to control local populations and provide opportunities for stakeholder collaboration.
With the close of Dr. Layman’s presentation, the vote of thanks was given by Olivia Patterson Maura, FRIENDS program coordinator, who thanked the Cable Bahamas Cares Foundation and Guy Harvey Foundation as well as all in attendance.