On our last few observational and scouting dives we encountered Lionfish. Of course this is nothing new (at least since the invasion began) but our findings were intriguing. We found that every Lionfish we encountered was very small, around two to three inches in length. We also found these Lionfish struggling in the wave slosh current caused by offshore weather systems. Below is a brief clip showing one of these small Lionfish doing his best to keep composure.
Do these observations mean or imply anything?
The quick answer is maybe or maybe not. However, northeast Florida sits it a geographic location that may present some occasional challenges to Lionfish that may have effect on the local populations from time to time. The following are some thoughts from us at TISIRI on what might possibly explain the recent observations.
It is likely that the juvenile Lionfish found in the northeast region are spawned further south. Gametes created in southern Florida and the Caribbean become larval Lionfish that drift in currents northward. Juvenile Lionfish likely drop out of the drifting currents onto north Florida reef habitats. The small Lionfish in the video and the others we have recently encountered are likely "new" lionfish having just settled in. Since we have not seen larger Lionfish it could imply the previous local population could have been reduced by natural events and control efforts.
A few thoughts why the the previous resident population of Lionfish could be reduced in numbers:
1. Lionfish control efforts where divers have manually removed a significant number of resident Lionfish
2. A reduction in numbers due to the cold bottom temperatures this past August and September.
3. A negative effect on population from the rough groundswells produced from recent tropical systems
These suggestions are just a few ideas. In reality things are likely much more complicated. Variables like locations and depths should be considered and it may be that the observations we have recently made are specific to the areas we visited. The above mentioned possible population stresses may have more effect in certain areas then others. It would be interesting to find out if divers who have been at deeper sites (greater then 100 feet) have made similar observations or contrasting findings. Regardless, Lionfish are still a constant environmental stress that will need continued control efforts.