The ecological and socio-economic impacts of the lionfish invasion in the Southern Caribbean
The Indo-Pacific lionfish (Pterois volitans) is a venomous, voracious predator with a high dispersal capactity. In the space of 30 years, it has infiltrated an array of habitats, inhabited a depth range of > 300 m and exceeded the size and density reported in the native range, demonstrating the difficulty of effective lionfish management. If left unmanaged, lionfish pose a significant, but still uncertain, threat to Caribbean ecosystems thereby warranting the need for effective and efficient, tailored management schemes. Since their confirmation in Bonaire and Curacao in October 2009, an extensive monitoring program was established by the author in collaboration with CIEE Research Station Bonaire whereby >11,000 lionfish were documented and their population dynamics, reproductive and feeding ecology analysed in relation to local management strategies. The types of education and management strategies applied were evaluated based on their benefits and limitations to make recommendations for areas early in the invasion timeline. Finally efficiency of removal activities in Bonaire and Curacao were assessed and suggestions made on when and how often to remove lionfish. Socio-economic questionnaires were conducted to determine the profile and motivations of lionfish hunters, and a cost-benefit-analysis performed to assess economic effects of the invasion. Knowledge gained from this research is beneficial for tailoring future management through recommendations of which lionfish to remove, how often and which tools, methods and groups are most effective. This work revealed that dusk was the most effective time for lionfish removal and that by focusing removal efforts in the 15 – 25m depth range, this allowed for the depletion of a higher proportion of individuals in the 101 - 200mm size class. This research also revealed how valuable a prepared and rapid response to management was and how important a dedicated volunteer removal effort is to controlling the lionfish populations in the future.