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What are Lionfish Doing in Cyprus?

What are Lionfish Doing in Cyprus?

 

Lionfish

Lionfish have distinctive brown or maroon, and white stripes or bands covering the head and body

 

Scientific name: Pterois volitans/miles

 

Common name: lionfish

 

 

 

 

Last week Scuba Monkey finally encountered the lionfish which have been seen at the Cliffs dive site at Konnos point. The lionfish (also known as the turkeyfish, tigerfish, dragonfish, scorpionfish, and butterfly cod) is a poisonous spikey fish They are beautiful creatures, but they are new to the area so I thought I would explore why they have decided to visit our Cypriot coastlines. Reports from every oceanography paper that I have read surprised me. They report that the lionfish are invading Mediterranean waters,  and are highly detrimental to existing ecosystems.

lionfish

Three lionfish have made their home at the CLIFFS DIVE SITE

Why?

Why indeed.

Lionfish

The chances of accidental or deliberate release of lionfish from aquariums are quite high

There are two reasons for this rather beautiful, albeit unwelcome guest in Cyprus. Lionfish are native to the Red Sea, and one reason that they could be making their way into the Mediterranean is the connection of these two seas via the Suez Canal. Another reason is the fact that the Mediterranean sea has a high number of major cities along its coastline. Aquarium keeping is common practice in developed countries and therefore the chances of accidental or deliberate release of lionfish are quite high. I know for a fact that my local vet has a fish tank, and it used to home four lionfish. It now has only one, but the receptionist either won’t tell me what happened to them or doesn’t know. Either way – I find it interesting that there are three lionfish who seem quite good friends at the Cliffs dive site (they are always in the same little cave at around 15 meters)!

 

The risk of a  lionfish infestation in the Mediterranean is a hard one to gauge however, as there is lack of information in relation to  Mediterranean sea conditions. Hydrodynamics, ocean climate and bathymetry (the underwater equivalent of topography or depth data of the sea bed) information is hugely lacking compared to the the knowledge we have of other marine regions like the Atlantic ocean. Studies are being carried out as we speak as there are more and more sightings of lionfish in Mediterranean waters every day.

 

But Hang on a minute.  I LOVE lionfish! Their unmistakable red and white stripes, their peacock like  fins and large eyes make them one of the most beautiful fish I have encountered. Why then, do all the studies call their presence in the Mediterranean an “invasion”?

 

Lionfish predator

Groupers are one of the lionfish’s natural predators

Well, as the lionfish are non native to the region they have few natural predators.  They themselves eat huge amounts of molluscs,small fish and invertebrates.  The lionfish catches it’s prey by hiding in a crevice in the rock or coral and then ambushing it as it swims past.The lionfish then corners it’s prey with it’s large fins before swallowing it whole.The lionfish is prey to few predators due to the large size of the lionfish and the fact that the appearance of the lionfish is intimidating to other animals. The spikes that protrude from the body of the lionfish contain venom that lionfish uses to defend itself if it is being pursued.Sharks are among some of their natural predators…. But shark populations are plummeting in the Med just as they are in all oceanic regions of the world. The Cyprus fisheries department have reported however that groupers are fast filling the gap in the food chain and are believed to feed on lionfish.

Phew!

Thats a relief!

This means that we can enjoy these beautiful creatures guilt free!! Wherever they came from, be it  a fish tank or from the Red Sea, why don’t you come and have a look at these gorgeous aquatic animals on our next Cliffs Dive? You wont regret it!

 

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