Lionfish are an invasive species in the Caribbean and are having a devastating impact on local fish communities throughout the region. Introduced in the 1980s, believed to be by accident, lionfish have spread extremely quickly and are now found as far as New York City and Brazil. Their success is down to a number of factors, including their high reproductive rate, generalism in terms of both diet and habitat, and a lack of natural predators. They are now considered to be one of the greatest threats to the future of Caribbean coral reefs and their fish communities. Management approaches to dealing with the lionfish invasion are limited, with one of the most common being direct removal via spear fishing. This relies on regular visitation to individual reef sites, as studies have shown full recovery of lionfish populations only five months after complete removal. Baseline data will be collected on population densities of lionfish at sites of varying intensities of culling. Lionfish will subsequently be removed and morphometric measurements taken along with dissections for physiological and gut content assessments, which can link fish assessments to gauge prey availability. In addition, lionfish behavioural responses to divers, such as Flight Initiation Distance (FID) and Alert Distance (AD) can be assessed, which could also be expanded to include commercially valuable fish such as grouper.
In the Caribbean there are a number of core issues that have been affecting the biodiversity of the reefs – including the mass mortality of keystone sea urchins that have allowed algal colonisation of reef areas, an invasive species originally from the Indo Pacific (lionfish) that acts as a predator on reef fish has been spreading across the Caribbean, and overfishing of reef fish by local communities. Opwall has a series of monitoring sites around the Caribbean (Cuba, Dominica and Mexico) and two of those monitoring sites are in Honduras. One is on the island reefs of Utila and the second on the coastal barrier reef of Tela. The island of Utila is used to represent a typical modern Caribbean reef, whereas the mainland bay of Tela offers an alternative type of reef ecosystem, and they combine to help Opwall scientists explore the best ways to protect coral reefs throughout the region. At both sites, teams of Opwall scientists and students collect annual monitoring data to assess temporal patterns of ecosystem change, alongside novel research to address key management priorities and gaps in our current understanding of tropical marine coastal ecosystem function.
Our marine sites are hot and usually dry, but with occasional storms.
Fitness level required
Low. Some fitness is required for in water activities, but conditions are relatively easy.
Facilities are comfortable but basic. There is phone signal and limited wifi that is often unreliable.