Effectiveness of lionfish removal efforts in the southern Caribbean
Lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) have spread rapidly throughout the Caribbean Sea since 1985, where they negatively impact native fish communities and therefore are considered by some as the most damaging invasive species in the Caribbean to date. To combat further population growth and spread of lionfish and to protect native fish communities, various Caribbean islands have started control efforts. On Bonaire, a removal program based on volunteers using spear guns was started immediately after the first lionfish was sighted in 2009, and a similar program was started on neighboring Curaçao 2 yr later. To determine the effectiveness of these removal efforts, differences in the density and biomass of lionfish were compared between areas in which lionfish were directly targeted during removal efforts (i.e. ‘fished’ areas) on Bonaire and areas where they were not (i.e. ‘unfished areas’) on both Bonaire and Curaçao. Lion- fish biomass in fished locations on Bonaire was 2.76-fold lower than in unfished areas on the same island and 4.14-fold lower than on unfished Curaçao. While removal efforts are effective at reducing the local number of lionfish, recruitment from unfished locations, such as those too deep for recreational diving and at dive sites that are difficult to access, will continuously offset the effects of removal efforts. Nevertheless, our results show that the immediate start and subsequent contin- uation of local removal efforts using volunteers is successful at significantly reducing the local density and biomass of invasive lionfish on small Caribbean islands.