The ocean is a deeper hue of blue off the coast of Florida. About 30 meters (100 feet) down, the water is clear. The colors of the reef are brilliant. Near an orange barrel sponge is a group of fish. They seem to hang motionless in the water. They look like a herd of zebras. But their stripes are reddish‑brown and white.

A short distance away, a diver appears. He aims the barbed end of a spear at the head of the nearest fish. He pulls the trigger of his speargun and strikes the fish. None of the other fish move. It’s as if they hadn’t noticed what just happened. The diver shoves the dead fish into a pouch. Then he takes aim at another fish.


A Fish Out
of Its Waters

Why would a diver kill lionfish? Because lionfish are not a natural part of the environment here. They are an invasive species. Their presence here hurts local fish populations. It’s also become a serious threat to the reef itself.

Lionfish are native to the South Pacific and Indian oceans. There, they live in balance with other creatures. Birds and fish eat lionfish eggs, while larger predators eat lionfish. But in the Atlantic Ocean, they have no natural predators. There is nothing to keep the lionfish population in check.

Getting a Fin‑hold

So…how did these lionfish get in the Atlantic Ocean in the first place? There are some interesting theories. They arrived here trapped in the ballast tank of Pacific cargo ships. A breeding pair escaped from a Florida aquarium during Hurricane Andrew. A hotel accidentally pumped lionfish out to sea from its lobby aquarium.

The likely version is that tropical fish owners in the area dumped their lionfish out to sea. This can happen once the fish get too big for their aquariums.

The first confirmed report of lionfish was in 1985 off the coast of Dania Beach in Florida. Since 2000, the population has exploded. That’s a big problem!