Accidents happen — we all know that. This one, however, has scientists throughout the entire continent pulling out their hair.
Most of you probably know of the lion fish. Whether you heard of it in science class or “New Girl,” you should know this species has become a really big deal lately (if you watch the show, I’m sure you remember the episode where Schmidt develops an obsession for lion fish and decides to go to the beach and catch one himself — he ends up getting stung in the face by a jellyfish).
The lion fish’s recent popularity is actually the result of a big accident that dates back to 1992, when Hurricane Andrew hit the North American east coast. Originally from the Indo-Pacific region (think Polynesia and the Indian Ocean), this venomous species made its way into the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea after six lion fish from an aquarium in southern Florida’s Biscayne Bay were accidentally released into the wild when Hurricane Andy destroyed the seaside aquarium in 1992. Many debate whether this was the first time the foreign species was released into the Atlantic. Some scientists believe retired fish-keepers were responsible for the lion fish’s introduction to the Atlantic Ocean in the early ‘80s; however, the species’ population in the Atlantic grew dramatically after the incident in 1992. With no natural predators in the region and an astonishingly fast growth rate (one single female lion fish can lay up to 30,000 eggs in one month), the species has reproduced to the point of overpopulation, from as far north as Rhode Island to as far south as Brazil, in only two decades.
The coral reef in the Caribbean has shrunk a concerning amount in recent years. This is a huge problem for the Caribbean nations, since most of their revenue relies on the tourism and fishing made possible by coral reefs. According to a study from the World Resources Institute, the declining number of coral reefs in the Caribbean will cost up to $300 million in losses to the region’s tourism industry by 2015.
Unfortunately, lion fish have an inclination toward the marine species that inhabit Caribbean coral reefs. The Bahamas, a Caribbean island nation, reported that 80 percent of the animals in the nation’s coral reefs were eaten by the alien species in the past three decades.
The lion fish’s ability to feed on an average of 20 fish in only 30 minutes and reduce a juvenile fish population by 79 percent within a five-week period proves this species is a serious threat to the Caribbean marine ecosystem. Now that the lion fish has spread farther south and made its way to South America’s coasts, this issue has officially made it to the public sphere, titled “Latin America’s Alien Invasion.”
As this issue becomes bigger in the political and economical spectrum of the continent, new organizations have formed with the hope of attacking the problem. The most distinctive effort to fight the lion fish invasion, however, is a Colombian chef’s incentive to create a delicious meal from lion fish meat. Jorge Rausch is a famous Colombian chef who has already allied with several organizations to fight for his cause. By turning lion fish meat into ceviche, a popular South American plate consisting of raw fish meat, Rausch plans to help reduce the alien species population, one meal at a time. His efforts seem successful; his recipe has already gained popularity throughout the Caribbean, and his undertaking has been recognized by many ecological organizations throughout the world.
Who would’ve thought that such a large chunk of this continent was invaded by an alien species? A little random information never hurt anybody, and I’m sure all you chefs out there will impress your friends with a lion fish ceviche meal! Find the complete recipe here.
Follow Maria Prada on Twitter: @Chuzac
As published in the Oct. 31 issue of the Pepperdine Graphic.