Lionfish captured off Miami coast

The Miami HeraldJune 24, 2009 

Lionfish, likened by scientists to underwater locusts, have been found to the south off Key Largo, to the north off Fort Lauderdale and to the east from Bimini to Cat Cay.

Now, the venomous invader from the Pacific has been captured off Miami. Divers from Biscayne National Park netted one Saturday, where it lurked in the crumbling bow of a freighter 60 feet down.

Given how quickly the zebra-striped scourge has spread along the Atlantic coast, that it took this long to confirm its presence off Miami may be more surprising than the discovery itself. In the past few years, lionfish have boomed off North Carolina, overrun reefs in the Bahamas and pushed into the Caribbean.

"Personally, I thought it was just a matter of time," said park biologist Vanessa McDonough. "At least in Miami-Dade we're aren't getting any report of how they're dominating the reefs."

Not yet, at least.

As marine monsters go, the lionfish doesn't appear formidable. It's small, reaching perhaps 20 inches, and slow. But its fins form a lion-like mane of spines that can inflict wicked stings, both to predators and humans who handle it. It also has a seemingly bottomless appetite for juvenile snapper and grouper, native tropicals, shrimp, crabs, anything small enough to swallow.

"They pretty much eat anything that comes into their path and, on the flip side, hardly anything eats them," McDonough said. Scientists consider that a combination with serious potential for disrupting already-stressed marine food chains.

Technically, it isn't the first lionfish in the park.

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