Invasive Lionfish Move Into Virgin Islands National Park

lionfish open mouth photo
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Wild boar, kudzu, and cane toads are among the world's most infamous invasive species—and they're about to be joined by one more: the lionfish.

Native to the Pacific, invasive lionfish in the Caribbean are wreaking havoc on local ecosystems—and now, their range is spreading.

lionfish face photo

On July 15 a lionfish was spotted near the US Virgin Islands. The next day, a team of NOAA divers returned to the area and captured the fish within 10 meters of the original location.

Rafe Boulon, Chief of Resource Management for the Virgin Islands National Park, explained that:

Lionfish pose a huge threat to the coral reef ecosystems of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The native fish populations are essentially defenseless in the face of this threat. And once established, lionfish are very difficult to control

Though lionfish were first observed in the Virgin Islands in 2008—and have been spotted as far north as the coast of North Carolina—they have yet to establish themselves in these northern locations. Farther south, off the coast of Belize and many of the Caribbean islands, however, these fish have become pervasive pests that threaten to wipe out entire reef ecosystems.

NOAA scientists hope that a massive fishing campaign—motivated by the "Eat lionfish" slogan—will help stop the spread of the species.