The Lion’s Share: Florida’s Lionfish Problem

Courtesy of the FWC, lionfish

Courtesy of the FWC 

A University of Florida researcher sees no end in sight for the eradication of the invasive fish in Florida waters that has been taking a lion’s share of reef habitats.

Tom Frazer, professor and interim director of the school of natural resources and environment, was published in this year’s issue of Reviews in Fisheries Science that shows troublesome lionfish may never be removed from Florida’s coastline reefs but may be kept under control in targeted areas. 

 

Frazer’s research took place on Little Cayman Island with the Central Caribbean Marine Institute based out of Princeton University.  The group studied the threats posed by lionfish to the reefs there such as eating native fishes and potentially reducing biodiversity in the ecosystem, he said. 

 

The spiny, ornate lionfish were identified off the coast of Florida in the 1980s, Frazer said.  Since then, they have skyrocketed in numbers and have now spread to Caribbean and South American waters as well as the Gulf of Mexico. 

 

The creatures were first seen within Bloody Bay Marine Park on Little Cayman Island in 2008, he said.

 

The research done by Frazer’s team off Little Cayman Island was conducted over several months in 2011.  The group measured and dissected the stomachs of lionfish removed off of 11 reef sites by local dive masters, he said. 

 

Voracious and venomous predators, these fish victimize valuable juveniles of native species such as grouper and snapper, he said. 

 

The dissection was done to find whether bigger lionfish have different diets than the smaller, he said.  Frazer’s research shows that smaller lionfish eat shrimp, a much less economically valuable resource. 

 

The reason lionfish are such a threat to the reef ecosystems is they are prolific breeders, Frazer said.  A mature female has the ability to lay tens of thousands of eggs every two to three days.

The growth rate of lionfish is so quick that scientists struggle to study them before maturity. 

 

Adults have no known predators, Frazer said. 

 

The REEF Headquarters director of special projects, Lad Akins, said derbies have been held throughout Florida in an attempt to keep the lionfish population under control.  In these competitions, divers and snorkelers try to catch as many fish as possible in a given time frame using spears or nets.

 

This year’s tournament in Key Largo hosted 11 teams that brought in 461 lionfish, he said.  The largest of the fish was 410 millimeters long.  Prizes were given for the most fish caught, the largest and the smallest.

 

The event was September 8. 

 

Akins added the effort to maintain control of the lionfish population in Florida and Caribbean waters must be sustained over time in order to work. 

 

Similar derbies have been hosted in Palm Beach and Broward counties, according to the REEF Headquarters website. 

 

In a phone interview, Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission public information specialist

Amanda Nalley said the possibility of completely eliminating lionfish is unlikely because they swim to depths that prevent divers from capturing them.  

Because of the increase in lionfish numbers, a temporary change has been made in the regulations for lionfish fishing, she said.  The change allows non-licensed divers to go after the species as long as they use equipment approved by the FWC such as pole spears, Hawaiian slings or other lionfish-specific devices. 

 

The limit for unregulated fish is two fish or 100 pounds per day, whichever is more. 

 

Commercial fish harvesters have no such limit but must report their catch, Nalley added.  These harvesters are also helping the cause by going after lionfish even if the fish are a by-catch caught along with their commercial game.  Lionfish can weigh up to 2.6 pounds. 

 

“I think that in order to make a significant impact on lionfish the effort will have to be sustained for a very long period of time and I’m hoping that, when we identify the locations that are most important, we can allocate the resource that is needed through that effort,” Frazer said.

Dolphins plus at Dolphins Plus

When the South turns back into the North again, the water eventually clears crystalline and brings you to the first welcoming island of the Caribbean, Key Largo, where Dolphin Plus introduces their favorite porpoises for the purpose of making friends.

The agency commits its time to the conservation and protection of marine mammals through educational programs including individual swims for their clients with the dolphins on location. Although the experiences offered come at a cost, Dolphin Plus works hand-in-hand with the Marine Mammal Conservancy which dedicates research to marine mammals internationally.

Sea lions are also present on-location.

The Marine Mammal Center’s website states dolphins are in the classification, cetaceans, which means “toothed whales” that range between five and 60 feet in length. There are 73 known species of porpoises including the bottle-nose dolphin and the sperm whale.

Dolphins use ecolocation to identify objects and other creatures in their environments. The sound travels to the nearest solid objects and bounces back to indicate the placement of the animals’ surroundings.

It is believed that millions of years ago, cetaceans lived on land but evolved fins and tails upon moving into their aquatic environment. Dolphins are closely related to hippopotamuses.

With the education provided by staff at Dolphins Plus, swimmers can make their experiences memorable in interacting with the 11 dolphins on the premises.

Johanna Phillips describes the experience of swimming with dolphins as “amazing.” Her opportunity to visit the dolphins was an undergraduate graduation present from her parents.

“It was so much fun swimming with the dolphins in the “natural swim” where the interactions are up to the dolphins,” the 22-year-old University of Florida veterinary student said. “If they didn’t feel like playing, they didn’t have to.”

According to Phillips, swimming on the side of the body and making eye contact with the marine mammals would allow you to swim next to them. She swam with five dolphins.

“It was one of the most incredible interactions I’ve ever had with animals,” she said.

Dolphin-enthusiasts are encouraged to engage theirselves in Dolphin Plus’s dolphin education programs which range in price and are available to individuals of all ages including the Marine Biologist for a Day and Dolphin Body Language Workshop.

Swimming with dolphin experiences start at $195 for a 45-minute swim but cost more depending on the program chosen.

For more information about dolphin swims at Dolphins Plus, visit their company website at http://www.dolphinsplus.com/.

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Panasonic Lumix Wins My Heart in the Underwater Camera Category!

If you’re anything like me, your technology takes a beating.  I drop my phone on a daily basis.  I have submerged an iTouch in a dorm toilet.  My last few cameras have been ruined due to getting beach sand in the lens.

Panasonic Lumix

So when the time came to purchase a new, waterproof camera, I knew it would be important to choose a sturdy model that could roll with my clumsy lifestyle.

I first went on Best Buy’s website and scrolled up and down the page with all the waterproof cameras.  Being the lady that I am, I was attracted to all the magentas and the blues and the gem-tones but quickly shock my head and went to investigate the most important factor to someone on a college budget: cost.

reef scene

On attempt two, I visited a good friend of mine… Amazon.  I quickly scrolled past the $300s and the $400s… For what I plan to do with the camera, take pictures of my shenanigans aboard kayaks and under waterfalls, a higher priced camera wouldn’t be a sound investment.

The camera I settled for is the Panasonic Lumix.  This baby is usable at underwater depths up to 40 feet, durable, easy-to-use, and fits in your back pocket.  The Lumix not only has a cool name but take crystal clear pictures that can’t be beat for the $250 price at which I bought it on Amazon.com.

flounder

I knew upon using it in the Keys to capture the beautiful reef life that I had made the right decision.  The camera comes equipped with a bright yellow floating handle.  If you drop it, it won’t become a part of the Little Mermaid’s collection.

Although my version doesn’t come with a fully-functioning GPS system, it does have a 12 megapixel sensor.  It also takes a 3968 X 2976 image and records short videos in case I ever find myself in a cage in a shark tank.

squids

And the best part?  Mine is a pretty blue!

How to Avoid Being A Fool on April Fool’s Day- Lessons Through Photos

As a tribute to all of the foolish times I’ve had on the water (and as a warning to the rest of you), I have posted some of my best insights into what to avoid in all your Woman, Water, Wild escapades…

Don't hold sharks

Don’t hold the sharks without gloves for protection… Their sandpaper skin will give you rub burn!

The Burren

Never stand this close to a ledge on a day when the water is rough… the oysters will cut you, the waves will rough you up and, if all else fails, the rocks won’t be fun.

bloody fish

Always bring a rag with you in case the hook leaves a fish bloody…

bad boat picture 1 bad boat picture 2 bad boat picture 3

Be sure you’ve got stable footing on the deck before snapping a picture… You might miss an opportunity to capture a quick moment (like a fish before it jumps off the hook!).

boat blanket

Dress appropriately for the type of weather you’re most likely to experience… Rain, cold or sunshine.

wakeboarder

Wear a helmet when wake-boarding or water skiing.  Water may seem like a gentle, soft place to land but surface tension  begs to differ.

fishing in the keys

Be sure to pull and then reel, pull and then reel… This technique takes the tension off your line which decreases its chances of snapping!

spear fishing

Keep one person on the boat at all times.  Not only does this insure that it stays in the same place (even if there’s an anchor dropped).  Not to mention, someone can take pictures of all the action!

wading

Always be safe and aware or you might find yourself stuck in the mud!

Happy April Fools’ Day!

5 Steps to Rigging a Line

As I anticipate warmer weather and long, sunny days on the boat, I thought it would be helpful for all my wild women out there to have a crash course on rigging a saltwater fishing line.

Fishing Pole

Fishing Pole

Read on and get excited about catching those fantastic finned friends with a line you didn’t have to have assistance to cast out into the big blue.

Before we begin, here’s what you’ll need:

-braided fishing line

-leader line

-saltwater sinker

-saltwater hook

Step 1– Loop a braided mainline through the guides on a fishing pole.  Be sure the line is guided UNDER  the bail before through the pole’s guides!  Using braided line is important because it doesn’t stretch when a fish is on the line.  Be sure that there is about 12 inches of line to tie the leader to.

Step 2– Cut about 2 feet of leader.  The next step is to tie the line and leader together.  Not only does this technique of using two different types of line strengthen your rig, but it also insures the fish doesn’t damage the line being reeled in as well as giving the fisherman or woman the ability to reuse the rig set-up again with another pole.  I recommend using is a uni-to-uni knot.  The steps to tying this knot are shown step-by-step in the photos below. Continue reading