Lionfish invasion latest threat to Florida's eco-system

KEY LARGO, Fla. — At French Reef, 30 feet below the ocean's surface, Sea Dwellers dive instructor Dave Jefferiss was on a mission to find and capture one of the gorgeous but dreaded new invaders of the Florida Keys: a lionfish.

Jefferiss searched the reef's numerous nooks and crannies where an underwater photographer had spotted the territorial lionfish a few days earlier. But after an hour, he surfaced with empty nets.

"There are so many places for a lionfish to hide,'' he said. "Somebody will try again. It's too important not to try.''

There have been 68 marine-invading species in Florida, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico over the last century, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, but none has wreaked as much havoc to the marine environment as the voracious red lionfish that devours native fish populations wherever it invades.

The Nature Conservancy said the lionfish, with its floating, striped headdress, looks like a Las Vegas showgirl. Its beauty is the reason it was once a top-10 imported tropical fish for aquariums in the United States.

But the lionfish, native to the Pacific and Indian oceans, is a menace to humans and marine life. It has venomous fins, and no known marine predators in the territory it is invading.

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