The silence underwater is overwhelming. Time passes rapidly. Having noticed my goal, I concentrate on it intensely, figuring out that if I miss, and the animal will get away, it might be taught from the encounter and be more durable to hunt sooner or later.
As I strategy, armed with my spear, I watch because the fish spreads its extensive pectoral fins, displaying its venomous spines. (Sluggish and simple to identify, it depends on this intimidating show to discourage would-be predators.) I take purpose, pull again on my spear’s spring-loaded deal with and let the weapon fly.
I discovered to free-dive and hunt underwater as a toddler, however spearfishing is now not thrilling to me. As an grownup I took up pursuits in marine biology and underwater images, finally buying and selling the spear gun of my childhood for my first skilled underwater digital camera. Not lengthy afterward, I accomplished a grasp’s diploma in marine biology. For the final 10 years I’ve lived on the small Caribbean island of Bonaire, the place I work as a marine conservationist photographer.
My overarching objective is to doc the efforts of the area people — scientists, skilled divers and volunteers — to protect the reefs of Bonaire. And right here, a major a part of the collective preservation effort is concentrated on a specific goal: the lionfish (Pterois miles and Pterois volitans).
Lionfish are native to the Pacific and Indian oceans. However up to now few many years, the animal has established itself within the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, the place its invasive presence poses a critical menace to tropical Atlantic reefs and their related habitats.
The consequences are staggering. One research by scientists from Oregon State College discovered that, in solely 5 weeks, a single lionfish lowered the juvenile fish in its feeding zone by 80 %. And their reproductive output is remarkably excessive: Females can launch round 25,000 eggs each few days. In some locations, together with the Bahamas, the density of lionfish could be inflicting the most significant change to biodiversity of reef habitats because the daybreak of industrialized fishing.
Communities all through the Caribbean have employed a lot of methods to stem the expansion of lionfish populations. Bonaire depends on volunteer lionfish hunters; on partnerships with Stichting Nationale Parken Bonaire, or STINAPA, a nonprofit basis that manages Bonaire’s nature parks; and on assist from native dive retailers.
Divers supply a exact type of inhabitants administration, since underwater searching ends in little collateral injury. However divers are restricted by the depth to which they will comfortably descend — typically round 60 toes. In locations the place lionfish are discovered at higher depths, traps may also be employed.
As a result of spearfishing is prohibited on Bonaire, and to assist stop damage, particular instruments had been developed and distributed to assist divers with their hunts. The ELF instruments — “ELF” stands for “eradicate lionfish” — additionally assist stop injury that conventional spear weapons and nets inflict on reefs.
Whereas catching a lionfish is comparatively straightforward, it may be tough — and harmful — to take away the fish from the spear tip of an ELF and tow the animal with out being injured by its venomous spines. Thus, lionfish hunters additionally started utilizing a tool known as a “zookeeper” — basically a chunk of PVC pipe that’s closed at one finish and has a modified plastic funnel on the different finish. As soon as the lionfish is speared on the ELF, the fish (and spear tip) are inserted into the zookeeper; when the spear is withdrawn, the fish is trapped contained in the pipe by the funnel.
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After I first arrived on Bonaire, I used to be launched to the conservation undertaking aimed toward eradicating the lionfish. Due to my expertise as a spear fisher, I used to be instantly requested to get entangled. I agreed to take part — although my true curiosity was in documenting the neighborhood’s efforts.
Since then, I’ve grow to be fascinated by the damaging capabilities of the transfixing creature.
It feels merciless to kill one thing so hypnotically lovely — though I perceive, rationally, that the act is ecologically useful. The lionfish, in any case, isn’t guilty; it doubtless ended up right here, scientists theorize, when aquarium house owners dumped undesirable specimens off the coast of Florida, presumably as a result of they had been consuming their manner by means of the opposite fish sharing their tanks.
And but killing the fish, one after the other, is probably the easiest way to gradual the havoc they’re wreaking on the Caribbean reefs.