The presence of the lionfish in Barbados so far has had a dramatic impact on the island???s coral reefs.
Acting Director of the Coastal Zone Management Unit, Dr. Lorna Inniss, made this assertion on Saturday during the Lionfish Derby and Cook-off – the first national effort to raise awareness and encourage public consumption of the fish.
She said Barbados??? reefs were already challenged by climate change, high sea temperatures and coral bleaching.
???Now you have a lionfish that eats up to 30 times its body weight in other fish and creatures and shrimp and whatever it can find every single day. What ends up happening is that you lose your grazers for algae on the reef, so we are seeing a dramatic rise in algae cover on the reef which would smother the coral and cause them to die…We are also seeing fewer and fewer fish that would normally help to degrade the reef to produce the white sand that you see even on this beach,??? she stated.
However, she pointed out that the degradation of coral reefs and less sand being available on beaches were no longer just environmental issues, but extended to the socio-economic spheres.
She added that any lionfish management plans developed should include the three pillars ??? environmental, social and economic. Dr. Inniss explained that in addition to reducing the lionfish population and protecting and conserving the island???s coral reefs, it was important to consider it as a way of improving the island???s food security.
The Acting Director stressed that if there was more public participation, the involvement of key stakeholders, and greater levels of awareness, the lionfish would be eaten on a more widespread basis across the island.
Meanwhile, she stated that the economic aspects were clearer, especially as tourism depended as well on the island???s coral reefs and beaches being healthy.
However, while highlighting the importance of a national effort to combat the lionfish and reduce their growing population, Dr. Inniss stressed that there was a need for a regional approach to the situation for efforts to be truly successful.
Noting that officials in Barbados were observing and planning for the arrival of the lionfish five years ahead of time, Dr. Inniss said they also observed its impact on other countries along the way.
???Cuba is one of our key partners and they had done a lot of advance planning as well. They had done a lot of science surrounding the lionfish invasion, and they were well prepared when it got to Cuba???,??? she said, adding that the reefs in the Bahamas were heavily decimated by the predator.
She cautioned that if Barbados was doing all that it could to control the fish, but its neighbours were not, then their populations would continue to move into the island???s waters and create problems.
The Acting Director stressed that it was a situation requiring a regional approach, with a regional framework for management and control being developed. ???It all begins with the conversation, and I think that as we develop the conversation, we will be able to develop that regional framework,??? Dr. Inniss stated.
Officials in Barbados have observed the lionfish over the last five years as the species made its way from the Florida peninsula to the Northern Caribbean and into the Central Caribbean before coming to the island.
Its journey allowed officials time to draft a lionfish management plan for the island to control its numbers.