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Published:August 4th, 2006 04:01 EST
Public Education About Invasive Lionfish Part of Mission

Public Education About Invasive Lionfish Part of Mission

By SOP newswire

NOAA Ocean Service researchers, in collaboration with the Essential Image Source Foundation, embarked aboard the NOAA research vessel Nancy Foster to further examine the status in the Atlantic Ocean of the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish. Research will be conducted off the coast of North Carolina from water depths of 115 to 150 feet deep, from Cape Lookout to Cape Fear.

Lionfish, a native of the Indian and Pacific oceans and the minor seas between the two in the general area of Indonesia, have now established a population in the Atlantic Ocean. First discovered off of the coast of North Carolina in 2000, they are believed to have been present off the east coast of Florida since the mid 1990's. Lionfish, popular in the aquarium trade, were most likely introduced through releases by amateur aquarists no longer wishing to keep the fish.

"The lionfish provides a classic example of the risks of introducing a non-native aquarium fish into the wild environment," said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "NOAA, by educating the public about its consequences, hopefully can teach the public not to introduce other non-natives and minimize risks to our natural coastal resources."

Researchers will conduct surveys to quantify lionfish and native fish populations, including snapper and grouper. In addition, researchers will document native prey fish populations, retrieve long-term water temperature sensors, collect live lionfish for reproduction and life history studies, conduct plankton tows for lionfish larvae and conduct multibeam sonar mapping—topographic mapping of the ocean floor—of potential lionfish habitat, while aboard the R/V Nancy Foster.

The nine day mission, which began July 27, will provide researchers with a better understanding of the northward and inshore movement of lionfish, population densities, reproductive capabilities and sustainability of the lionfish population along the mid-Atlantic continental shelf.

"NOAA believes that non-native lionfish populations may continue to increase and have adverse consequences for native communities within the Atlantic," said Paula Whitfield, NOAA fisheries biologist at the NOAA Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research at Beaufort, N.C. "This research will continue to build on what we have learned in the past three years and is the next step toward understanding the impact of this invasive species."

The lionfish (Pterois volitans) is a popular saltwater aquarium fish and voracious predator of small fish, shrimp and crabs. Lionfish have spines containing a neurotoxin that can cause painful stings to unwary humans and paralyze other fish. Although there have been no known fatalities caused by lionfish stings, persons punctured by one of the sharp spines will immediately feel strong pain and rapid swelling of the affected body area.

NOAA's Invasive Species Program has provided additional funding to the lionfish research team for an expanded public outreach and education campaign targeting recreational and commercial fishing communities, the SCUBA diving public, the aquarium industry and the medical community as well as others in the general public.

Plans call for continuing the lionfish laboratory's current Web site as the official information database and reporting point for sighting, as well as teaming with the digital, video and electronic media capabilities of the Essential Image Source Foundation to maximize the print media's reach. The overall effort will develop over the next year with the current "blog" being the first in a series of steps the researchers hope will expand their campaign both to alert the public to the dangers of lionfish in particular and invasive species in general.

This new material, including video, will be available on the Web . The foundation will maintain a daily activity blog of the mission that can be viewed by visiting the EISF Web site and clicking on "Behind the Scenes," then "Blog." To learn more about lionfish please visit the NOAA Web site and click on "Lionfish."

In 2007, NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and more than 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.