Biology student diving for lionfish

It’s a different world, 75 feet under. At least, it feels that way at Six Mile Reef, just off Stuart’s coast. It’s a world that’s been threatened by the fish Rick Dahn is hunting: the lionfish.

Dahn and four other divers boarded the boat, “Irish Rover” in Port Salerno at dawn Saturday and motored away, for the 2nd Annual Lionfish Round-up. Captain Kerry Dillon directed the crew right above the natural reef. They geared up and plopped in the water, with hopes of making a small dent on a big problem.

“We got underwater, and there they were. Lionfish. Every 20, 30 feet another lionfish,” said Dillon, who owns Sea Rover Services.

Scientists say the venomous fish may have changed eco-systems forever.

Lionfish are an invasive species that showed up about 20 years ago in small numbers, according to Dr. Jim Masterson. He’s a biologist at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce.

“It’s not supposed to be here,” he said of the fish. It’s non-native and has no natural predators. Dr. Masterson says the fish might be out-competing other animals and eating the next generation of important fisheries before they can mature.

Florida Sea Grant says they’re becoming increasingly common on the Treasure Coast. Smithsonian Magazine reports the fish may have hurt tourism and commercial fishing.

The huge problem may have improved a tiny bit, when the local crew turned in about 40 lionfish.

“We cleaned house, did a service to the eco-system and just had fun,” said diver Hollis Dahn, who studies biology at the University of Central Florida.

Read more about the adventure here.


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