by Piter Kehoma Boll
The red lionfish, Pterois volitans, is a beautiful and venomou coral fish native from the Indo-Pacific region. Due to its great beauty, it is a very popular in fish tanks all around the world.
Since the 1980s, the lionfish started to be found in the waters of the Atlantic ocean around Florida. How did they get there? Certainly humans had something to do with it, but the exact way is yet unknow. Originally a small population, the species spread quickly by the beginning of the 21th century and in 2010 had colonized the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.
Some original studies on the genetic diversity of the Atlantic population estimated that the minimum number of introduced specimens was around 10. If that was true, the established population may have been the result of an accident, like, for example, the fish of a single aquarium accidentally ending up in the sea.
A recently published study (see reference), however, reestimated this number using new models and additional data. The conclusions are that the number of fish that colonized the Atlantic was much bigger, around 272 individuals. Such a large introduction would unlikely occur by accident. Introductions by fish being transported from the Indo-Pacific region in the ballast water of ships is unlikely, as they would hardly survive the transport. The most likely answer is that these fish were introduced through several small releases that happened in Miami. How and why? Well, many people like to have fish in beautiful fish tanks at home, and when they get tired of managing the animals or cannot afford continuing to have them, they decide to simply release them in the ocean out of pity, because the alternative would be to kill them.
Now can you see what are the consequences of thinking this way? You care too much for a single specimen, has no ecological knowledge, and simply decide to release them in the wild. Years later, they have depleted whole ecosystems and caused a large-scale disaster. That’s what humans do. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
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2017) Simulations indicate that scores of lionfish (Pterois volitans) colonized the Atlantic Ocean. PeerJ 5:e3996 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.3996(
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