Since they first invaded the Caribbean in the 1980s, lionfish (Pterois spp.) have proved to be the perfect predator and have had a devastating impact on local fish communities throughout the region. A single female can produce up to 2 million eggs per year, while they are generalists who feed on almost anything including fish, invertebrates and even each other! They are also habitat generalists, tolerating a wide range of environmental conditions which has allowed them to spread as far as New York City in the north and Brazil in the south. They also have no natural predators in the Caribbean, whilst at the same time the native fish have struggled to adapt to their sudden appearance. They are now considered to be one of the greatest threats to the future of Caribbean coral reef fish communities. Management approaches to dealing with the lionfish invasion are limited, with one of the most common being direct removal via spear fishing, although research by Operation Wallacea scientists has shown significant populations of lionfish at extreme depths, far beyond the reach of even the deepest divers. Technological solutions such as robots are therefore also being tested to help control populations at depth. Lionfish as a food source in the restaurant trade is also growing in popularity, alongside other products such as jewellery which can help provide financial support to removal efforts. Students on this project will work with our lionfish team who are involved in various areas of research. Projects could focus on investigating changes in population structure and morphology over time through dissections of culled individuals, or could explore food preferences via gut content analysis. Alternatively, projects could focus on the ecology of invasive lionfish by studying their habitat preferences and behaviour on local coral reefs.
In the Caribbean, there are a number of core issues that have been affecting the biodiversity of coral reefs, including the mass mortality of keystone sea urchins that have allowed algal colonisation of reef areas, an invasive predator (lionfish) originally from the Indo-Pacific that has spread across the Caribbean, and overfishing of reef fish by local communities. Opwall has two marine research sites in Honduras where these issues and many more are studied: one is on the island reefs of Utila and the second on the coastal barrier reef of Tela. At both sites, teams of Opwall scientists and students collect annual monitoring data to assess temporal patterns in reef community health, alongside novel research to address key conservation priorities and gaps in our current understanding of these fragile ecosystems. Honduras is also home to Opwall’s pioneering efforts to integrate technological solutions into the monitoring and study of coral reefs, including our 3D computer modelling method. Opwall’s team of marine scientists in Honduras helps to support not only international academic research and new method development, but also supports local non-governmental organisations with their efforts to improve marine conservation in Honduras.
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.