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Lionfish invasion is threatening the Atlantic Ocean

The venomous fish is capable of producing 30,000 to 40,000 eggs every few days.
By Evan Bleier   |   Oct. 21, 2013 at 9:56 AM   |   Comments

(UPI) -- Lionfish are invading the Atlantic Ocean at an increased rate and scientists are worried that consequences could be grave.

A native of the tropical waters of the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, the lionfish is a venomous, fast-reproducing fish that has no known predators. Aggressive eaters that will eat almost anything, lionfish are capable of destroying 90 percent of a reef.

"The lionfish invasion is probably the worst environmental disaster the Atlantic will ever face," said Graham Maddocks, president and founder of Ocean Support Foundation. His organization currently works to help reduce the lionfish population in Bermuda.

Lionfish produce 30,000 to 40,000 eggs every couple of days and are sexually mature by the time they are a year old.

Ecologist James Morris of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science said the lionfish brought a "big change in biodiversity," to the Atlantic Ocean and that they are "the most abundant top-level predator on some coral reefs (in the Atlantic)."

In Bermuda, people attempt to control the lionfish population by having fishing tournaments and fish fries, where residents sometimes wear "Eat 'em to Beat 'em" T-shirts.

"It's an infestation," Morris said. "The Atlantic Ocean is a big place, but the areas being affected are extremely important."

"When I began diving 10 years ago, lionfish were a rare and mysterious species seen deep within coral crevices in the Pacific Ocean," said Serena Hackerott, a researcher who studies lionfish. "They can now been seen across the Caribbean, hovering above the reefs throughout the day and gathering in groups of up to ten or more on a single coral head."

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