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The intruder, threatening fish in the Aegean

21 October 2015 / 18:10:42  GRReporter
1820 reads

Few fish can compete in beauty and grandeur with the lionfish (Pterois miles), the beauty of which however hides a mortal threat to marine ecosystems in Greece.

So far, the most dangerous fish that has appeared in Greek waters was Lagocephalus sceleratus. It is a very toxic species that has already caused poisoning in Israel and Lebanon. But nothing had prepared the Greeks for the arrival of a real invader in the summer, namely the lionfish. And it is an odd fish from every perspective.

The scientific name of the fish, Pterois miles, comes from the Greek word "pteron" (wing) because of its long fins resembling wings, and from the Latin word "miles" (soldier), which is associated with both its behaviour and natural "armament". Its length is 15-35 cm and it is part of the Scorpaenidae family. Its large fins contain one of the strongest poisons found in nature, which can even cause death. Like other members of the Scorpaenidae family, lionfish resides primarily in rocky bottoms, in relatively shallow waters of up to 60 metres, usually at a depth of 3 to 20 metres.
 
It is an omnivorous fish that eats everything that lives on rocks and is able to absorb an amount of food equal to 30 times the capacity of its stomach. It is scientifically proven that the lionfish can reduce the population of small fish in a reef by 90% in just 5 weeks. Moreover, the lionfish is one of the fastest-breeding species, as within a year alone one female fish can produce 2 million eggs in consecutive births every four days.

The lionfish lives mainly in the Indian Ocean, from Indonesia and South Africa to the Red Sea. From there, through the Suez Canal, it crossed the Mediterranean, the first information on its appearance off the coast of Israel dating back to 1991. Since then, the lionfish has settled in the entire eastern Mediterranean, from Egypt to southern Turkey. Photos of this species from the waters off Cyprus appeared on the Internet this year.

In July the lionfish appeared off the eastern coast of Rhodes island and there have been two confirmed reports to date. The truth is that scientists expected the lionfish to appear in Greek waters, as this species can survive at much lower temperatures than those in the Red Sea.

Aggressiveness

It has been established that when disturbed by divers the lionfish spreads its fins widely, making movements, as in an attack. Its poison is not active if the fish is killed. In no event should it be touched with bare hands if it is caught in a fishing net or on a hook. It has been shown that the appearance of the lionfish in new areas causes serious problems in terms of change in ecosystems and in terms of fishing.

Threat

• The lionfish is considered a "Lessepsian migrant". Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps is the engineer who built the Suez Canal. The opening of the new sea route allowed many species that until then lived in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea to "conquer" the Mediterranean.

• Lionfish are considered one of the tastiest fish in the world.

• For decades, the Caribbean Sea has been full of lionfish, which have replaced many of the native species.

• Today, the lionfish population in the Greek seas is still in its infancy, and therefore measures can still be taken that will have some effect.

Tags: LionfishMediterraneanPterois milesThreatEcosystems
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