An invasive lionfish species is likely to become a permanent resident in the Mediterranean according to a study published by the University of Plymouth.
The invasive species was first spotted in Cyprus in 2012 and has since been increasing in density over time as well as moving westward with sightings in Greece and an anecdotal account of one in Sicily.
The scale of spread means that the lionfish will eventually reach Malta despite it being a slow swimmer.
“The species is of concern because it is highly invasive,” Marine biologist Alan Deidun told Lovin Malta.
“It lays a tremendous amount of eggs in a short period of time and is a voracious predator. It also has very few predators itself and it can defend itself very well.”
How this species of lionfish made its way to the Mediterranean is unknown but speculations point to movement via the Suez Canal or the result of a deliberate release.
“This is an aquarium species,” Alan said. “Until a few months ago you could buy it from Maltese pet shops so it could very well have been the result of a deliberate release.”
According to a study published by the University of Plymouth, the rate at which the lionfish is spreading is already an indication that it cannot be eradicated and the development of a dedicated lionfish industry could help manage the situation and lessen some of the species’ negative impacts.
“It will definitely explode in a new area and won’t keep a low profile. It also results in a number of injuries every year.”
“We should be on the alert so that when it comes to our waters, it’s kept under control before it sets a foothold.”
Alan Deidun, along with the Department of Geosciences and the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture at the University of Malta, has set up a citizen science campaign in an attempt to monitor the spread of alien species in the Mediterranean.
“We’ve set up the Spot The Alien Fish citizen campaign because it’s important to get all stakeholders involved,” he said.
If left unchecked, the spread of the lionfish in the Meditteranean could result in further disruption of an already stressed marine environment.