It’s impossible to deny – the lionfish is one of the most beautiful specimens that can be seen in Mahahual’s coral gardens. They have such confidence in their venomous spines that they seem to boast about it to divers, who can approach them without the lionfish moving an inch. Unfortunately, the lionfish is a plague that threatens the marine ecosystems of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.
The invasion began in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew destroyed an artificial aquarium on the coast of Florida. Then two exotic species originating from the Indo-Pacific, Pterois volitans and Pterois miles, commonly known as lionfish, began colonizing their new habitat in the Caribbean and Golf of Mexico. Its success has been due to the total absence of predators and their amazing ability to reproduce – the female lays eggs every four days releasing approximately 195,000 per month, or 2.335 million eggs a year.
What is making the problem worse, lionfish are extremely ferocious. Their increasing presence and their high rate of predation are decimating the indigenous fish population in the reefs and mangroves that borders the sea. They feed on crustaceans and fish in juvenile stage. This affects a wide variety of larger species such as grouper, snapper, hogfish and lobster and fish larvae that are vital to the coral, parrot fish and surgeon fish. If left unchecked, lionfish will cause severe reduction or even extinction of many local species. When the seaweed-eater fish population become scarce, corals will be at serious risk too.
So far the only solution is to fish them. Environmental associations in the countries bordering the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico try to encourage lionfish consumption. The venom of lionfish concentrate in their epidermal glands which is removed prior to consumption. It is also a protein that is neutralised into amino acids when cooked. More and more people are discovering the delicious flavour of lionfish meat.
Mar Adentro Diving periodically conducts lionfish fishing in the reef off Mahahual, in a bid to control their numbers and contribute to the survival of the reef and indigenous marine life. But there are large parts of the Great Mayan Barrier where this predator are flourishing without limits. Therefore we are organizing lionfish safaris where divers can practice spearfishing and scuba (legal in this case) for a good cause, while visiting pristine reefs.
The fishing itself is simple: the lionfish do not flee from a diver’s slow approach. But their spines contain a poison extremely painful and it’s necessary to learn certain techniques and be cautious when handling it. This risk factor induces a great emotional charge. In addition, prepared in ceviche or seared on the grill, the lionfish is delicious. A good meal is usually the finishing touch at the end of an adventurous safari day, satisfied and pleased to have contributed and played our part to protect the world’s second largest coral reef in the world.
Will you join us?
Risks and safety protocols
The poison from a lionfish spine sting is not fatal, but very painful. The affected area becomes inflamed, usually followed by sweating, nausea and breathing difficulties which can occur alongside a drop in blood pressure.
For pain relief it is necessary to soak the wound in water as hot as you can stand; this dissolves the protein poison. It is advisable to see a doctor to assess the injury.
Prior to the first dive, participants will receive a briefing in which they will be trained in the use of the Hawaiian Sling (harpoon), appropriate hunting techniques (approach, shooting), how not to damage the coral, the method to contain your catch in the water and other security protocols.
To avoid accidents, the participants will only hunt the lionfish but will not be handling it (taking out the harpoon, removing the spines, placing it in a container, carry, climbing aboard and filleting), leaving this work to the guide, unless the participant expressly request it, which also means accepting responsibility for the higher risk involved.
Any diver wishing to join the team for tracking and tracing of the fish are also welcome.
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