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NOAA, Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute launch new lionfish web portal

New tool designed to help managers fight aggressive invasive fish in the Atlantic Ocean

January 6, 2015

lionfish. (Credit: NOAA)

Lionfish are found in nearly all marine habitats in the Atlantic along the Southeast United States and in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean waters. Densities of lionfish have surpassed some native reef fish in many locations. (Credit: NOAA)

The Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute and NOAA have partnered to launch a new web portal to provide managers, researchers, and the public with the latest information on the lionfish invasion in the Atlantic.

Introduced into the southeast Atlantic through the U.S. aquarium trade in the 1980s, lionfish have been spotted as far north as southern New England and are firmly established in a range from North Carolina to South America, including the Gulf of Mexico. Lionfish, which are considered an aggressive threat to native fish populations throughout their range, have recently expanded throughout most of the Caribbean in a time span of less than five years.

“Lionfish may prove to be one of the greatest threats of this century to tropical Atlantic reefs,” said NOAA ecologist James Morris, Ph.D. “As the first reef fish invasive species to this region, lionfish have clearly demonstrated the vulnerability of Atlantic reefs to marine invasions. With the lionfish web portal, coastal managers, scientists, and the public can work together to manage and better understand the lionfish and its economic and ecological impacts.”

The Invasive Lionfish Web Portal provides scientifically  accurate information for coastal managers, educators and the public on the lionfish invasion and its impacts by providing training videos, fact sheets, examples of management plans, and guidelines for monitoring. The authors of the web portal include NOAA scientists and policy experts, non-profit environmental groups, academic scientists, and coastal managers from the Southeast U.S., Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico who together bring decades of experience fighting the lionfish invasion.

One of the new site’s special features is an interactive front page that includes live Twitter (#lionfish), Flickr, YouTube, and Google news feeds, image and video contests, a lionfish distribution map, and a lionfish discussion forum designed to promote discussion and inquiry.

“The lionfish web portal was built to bring together scientists and coastal managers to share information and gather resources,” said GCFI’s executive director Bob Glazer. “We are confident that we can control lionfish in many places such as marine protected areas, sanctuaries, and other conservation areas if the many strategies and tools provided on the lionfish web portal are used.”

Invasive lionfish continue to cause ecological damage along temperate and tropical reefs from North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean islands to the Atlantic coast of South America. Coastal managers are working to catch and control lionfish in some conservation areas using methods such as adopt-a-reef programs, paid or volunteer removal efforts, fishing derbies, and commercial harvesting of lionfish as a food fish or for other end uses including the aquarium or jewelry trades.

This project was funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Conservation and Water. Collaborating partners include NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), GCFI, REEF, the International Coral Reef Initiative, and Oregon State University.

The Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute promotes the exchange of current information on the use and management of marine resources in the Gulf and Caribbean region. GCFI endeavors to involve scientific, governmental, and commercial sectors to provide a broad perspective on relevant issues, and to encourage dialogue among groups that often operate in relative isolation from one another.

The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Conservation and Water coordinates the development of U.S. foreign policy approaches to conserving and sustainably managing the world's ecologically and economically important ecosystems, including forests, wetlands, drylands, and coral reefs, and the species that depend on them. To learn more, join the State Department Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs on Facebook and Twitter.

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