26 Jan Documenting the Lionfish Invasion with PBS “Saving the ocean” host Carl Safina
During their careers filming underwater, the team of Liquid Jungle Media had a first row perspective of a rather infamous case of introduced non-native species: That of the Lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles), originally from the Indian Ocean) to the Caribbean.
The Lionfish is such a beautiful animal, that it is sought globally by aquarium aficionados; this demand triggered exports of the species to the western hemisphere, where one could see them in shopping mall pet-store tanks throughout North America during the 90’s.
Liquid Jungle Media has extensive experience on the Caribbean, so witnessing the change was dramatic. Daily diving and filming in the reefs of Riviera Maya, Mexico 1998-2000, never yielded a lionfish sighting for the team. They were familiar with it from their dives in Egypt’s Red Sea, but never expected to find it in the Caribbean, it just didn’t exist there.
It wasn’t until 2006 during an underwater filming job in the Bahamas, that the team had their first astonishing encounter with a specimen of Pterois in the Caribbean. The team saw this with great concern. Since then, the growth and spread of the lionfish population has taken over the whole Mesoamerican reef, the second largest in the world.
Thanks to its exponential reproductive capacity, nowadays the lionfish is so well established in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, that eradication is practically impossible, and it jeopardizes the existence of native species with its voracity (over 70 species of fish larvae are commonly found in its stomach content). Keeping the population under some sort of control, by hunting them on a regular basis might be the only choice.
As the people, the private initiative, the NGOs and the governments grew aware of the lionfish invasion, actions have been taken, sometimes coordinated, in order to control the infestation through organized hunting safaris, and the promotion of an innovative trend of lionfish-based cuisine. This is happening in Mexico and several Caribbean countries as well as Florida, USA.
For example, in the Riviera Maya, Gynna (A.K.A. the Lionfish Huntress) runs “Gynn’ Ak”, a restaurant specialized in lionfish dishes in Akumal, Mexico. The Puerto Morelos coop sells lionfish to customers locally, and to the US market through Dave Johnson’s Traditional Fisheries Co. and Constanza Ribot, a project coordinator with Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI) is helping them find other markets for their catch.
Pablo Catzim, one of the directors of the Cozumel Fishing Cooperative, explains that they sell lionfish in their restaurant and supply it to five other restaurants, whereas the fishermen and their families eat plenty lionfish as well. He says the coop’s 50 members caught almost 10,000 lionfish between 2010 and 2011. They also sell through Traditional Fisheries Co. to North American markets.
Liquid Jungle Media’s team was thrilled when in 2012 they were contacted for a second time by John Angier, producer of the PBS series “Saving the Ocean” asking them to join the team again in order to film 2 more episodes, one being about the Lionfish invasion of the Caribbean: http://chedd-angier.com/savingtheocean/.
Even more so when they found out filming was going to take part, amongst other places, in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, a gorgeous fishing village were the team had recently moved to from Egypt!
The team was also honored to work again with Carl Safina founding President of The Safina Center (formerly Blue Ocean Institute), and host of the PBS series Saving the Ocean.
“There’s never before been seafood about which I could say that eating it actually helps the ocean and helps other forms of ocean life” said Carl Safina, referring to the great and sustainable idea of promoting the Lionfish as a gastronomic delicacy.
At the end of the filming of the “Scourge of The Lionfish” episode, the team and other participant parties, celebrated an open tasting of lionfish dishes at Zenzi’s, a beach restaurant in Playa del Carmen.
Check Carl Safina in this video teaser form the Lion Fish episode of “Saving the Ocean” (and check his BIO here http://chedd-angier.com/savingtheocean/Carl_Safina.html):
The team of Liquid Jungle Media is very happy to work helping raise awareness for important environmental issues like this one, and invites you to try some Lionfish Ceviche when you visit any country in the Caribbean.