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Where When How Summer 2017 : Page 89

Relax | DIVE | Chill than 500 having been reported and thou-sands more on their way. Still, the situa-tion in the Keys isn’t yet as bad as the Bahamas (the Keys fish are still relatively small compared with their Bahamian brethren), but without a strong manage-ment response the Bahamian experience could be soon duplicated in the Keys. What’s as concerning as the sheer number of reports is where the lionfish are being seen. In a word, everywhere. Li-onfish are being spotted in the Keys, just as they are elsewhere, in every marine habitat, from off-shore reefs to the bridge pilings of U.S. Highway 1 (an especially popular habitat for them as of this writ-ing). “They’re being found anywhere there’s water and structure,” says Lad Akins, special projects coordinator for the Reef Environmental Education Founda-tion (REEF), and one of the most knowl-edgeable people on the planet regarding the invasion. “In one day we took 30 be-neath the Long Key bridge alone, and there’ve even been reports of fish in resi-dential canals.” The only good news is that none of the nearly meter-long specimens found in the Bahamas have been reported yet in the Keys. In the Bahamas commercial fishers targeting waters as deep as 600 feet (182 m) are bringing back lionfish. (Though not as deep, Keys lobstermen have reported juvenile lionfish in the bait wells of their traps retrieved from more than 200 feet [61 m].) The numbers in the Keys also pale in comparison with the Bahamas where a single one-day “lionfish derby” in the Aba-cos removed more than 1,400 fish. Not surprisingly, in a recent interview Lakeshia Anderson of the Bahamas Department of Fisheries said that the livelihoods of Ba-hamian fishers may depend on stopping, or at least slowing, the invasion. “With the quantities of lionfish that we’ve found in our waters,” Anderson says, “and the amount of food they consume, it has the potential of really collapsing our commer-cially important species — our fishing in-dustry, in general.” Florida’s two-day lobster mini-season, which occurred in July, provided another useful insight into the status of the lionfish invasion in the Sunshine State. This year the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission conducted a telephone sur-vey of lobster license holders, asking them if they saw any lionfish while lobstering. On average, one-third of lobster hunters from southeast Florida and the Keys who were interviewed reported seeing them. (Lobster hunters were thought to be a good source of information because lion-fish like to hide in the same habitats as lobster, which is something to remember the next time you eagerly reach into a hole to grab a lobster.) Why All the Concern? While lionfish have gotten all the publicity, they are not the first Indo-Pacific fish to visit the Atlantic. In fact, species from the other side of the world have been so preva-lent that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin-istration (NOAA) and REEF have released a new publication, “Field Guide to the Non-indigenous Marine Fishes of Florida.” It con-tains 30 different species. But the difference between lionfish and the other marine species is their firm foothold and proliferation, which begs the question, why? What has made them succeed where no other marine fish has? The best possible diving in the Turks & Caicos. We provide a high level of personal service, professionalism and fun to a small group, on our fast, comfortable dive boat. Private charters and private guiding -our speciality. Instruction, rental equipment and NITROX available. Complimentary Grace Bay pick up. Call us at 649-432-2782 | Out of Harbour Club Villas & Marina Visit the Turks & Caicos Islands at SUMMER 2017 • • • • • 89

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