Rise of the Lionfish

Lionfish on a wreck site in the Gulf of Mexico

Lionfish on a wreck site in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Michael Barnette, Association of Underwater Explorers

Marina, California.  It’s no breaking news that the red lionfish (Pterois volitans), a native to the Indo-Pacific, is making itself comfortably at home as an invasive transplant to the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.  After first appearing on Atlantic reefs about a decade ago, the fish is now commonly encountered throughout the region, leaving little hope of restricting it’s unwelcome range expansion.

The Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute listserv often discusses the fish and the many problems and concerns associated with it.  On one such recent conversation, Michael Barnette of the Association of Underwater Explorers posted the pictures associated with this blog post. The photos were taken at a depth of 250ft of water on a shipwreck located 100 nautical miles west of Naples, Florida.  These amazing images clearly demonstrate how abundant this fish has become in Gulf of Mexico waters.  For a fish that isn’t even supposed to be there, there sure are a lot of them!

Lionfish on a wreck site in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lionfish on a wreck site in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Michael Barnette, Association of Underwater Explorers

9 Responses to “Rise of the Lionfish”

  1. Great post man! Thanks

  2. Virginia says:

    Amazing Arlo!

    Just came back from Cayman Islands where I learned about this problem. Lionfish are also a plague there too and a big concern for tourism. It is the only species that you are told not to get close to when you are about to dive, as they are supposed to be quite aggressive. We met a tourist operator who always carries a knife with him when he goes underwater and is proud to have killed more than 600 lionfish so far! I was sorry to hear these news about such a pretty fish…

    • Arlo Hemphill says:

      Oddly, this problem has really grown to epic proportions since I moved out west to California, so I personally haven’t even seen one despite all my years of diving Florida and the Caribbean. Thanks for sharing the story of the Cayman dive operator. 600!? Wow! That’s a bunch… Unfortunately, they seem to really be congregating at depths too great for most divers to follow example. They’re here to stay…

  3. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  4. Webmistress Jessica says:


    I have been diving in Florida, Yucatan, Coz, Belize and Bahama’s and I am surprised at the numbers… and I am also surprised that in ome marine reserves trying to protect their portion of the seas, does not allow divers to kill these beautiful but incredibly destructive creatures. In Florida, we have competitions now for killing of Lionfish and the government has all but stated that we are required to kill them when we see them. It’s a terrible problem here.

    • Arlo Hemphill says:

      I’m a big supporter of these competitions to kill Caribbean lionfish. Even if we hardly scratch the surface of the problem, it gives us the rare chance as conservationists to work with fishermen and sportsdivers as champions of what they do.

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