In less than two decades two species of invasive lionfish have upset the balance of reef ecosystems across the Western Atlantic and the Caribbean. But a solution may be on the way, in the form of a robot.
Genetic analysis suggest every single lionfish in the Atlantic descended from fewer than 10 lionfish females which gives an idea of how quickly and massively these fishes have affected the ecosystems.
The lionfish are consuming a number of economically important species too, like snapper, grouper and even spiny lobster. What’s more, lionfish multiply swiftly. A single female spawns every two to three days and can lay 2 million eggs in a year.
In contrast to local predators lionfish feed constantly. In the Indo-Pacific, the lionfish' native range, small species see the spiked barbs and know to retreat, so the lionfish must work hard for its meals. Fish in the Atlantic, however, are naive to the danger and don’t flee.
Related to a vacuum cleaner
In a way, the lionfish exterminator is related to a certain vacuum cleaner.
The idea of a robotic lionfish killer is the brain child of Colin Angle, the CEO for iRobot and the maker of the Roomba robotic vacuum, and marine biologist Chris Flook, who had a long relationship with lionfish being one of the first to notice Bermuda’s lionfish invasion in the early 2000s.
NOAA's James Morris doesn’t believe culling programs can fully eradicate lionfish from the Atlantic. There are simply too many. But NOAA is confident that lionfish control plans can effectively protect conservation areas like national parks, marine sanctuaries and refuges. These plans would end with forcibly removing lionfish from protected areas and start with keeping lionfish out of the aquarium trade.
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