Invasive Lionfish Species Could Threaten Mediterranean’s Ecology

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Wolf Werner/Plymouth University
PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Wolf Werner/Plymouth University

An invasive lionfish species found in the Mediterranean Sea could threaten the region’s ecology if not addressed immediately, scientists say.

Researchers from Plymouth University in Britain found that the venomous predators had colonized the coast of Cyprus, prompted by rising sea temperatures and the widening and deepening of the Suez Canal.

Jason Hall-Spencer, a professor of marine biology at the University of Plymouth, tells The Christian Science Monitor that study co-author Demetris Kletou discovered that the lionfish were invading the waters near Cyprus, an alarming discovery.

“This is the first scientific proof that they are invading, but we don’t know what the ecologic impact will be,” Professor Hall-Spencer says. “What would be best is to stop it now, instead of waiting to see what the environmental effects are.”

The study notes that few sightings of the alien lionfish Pterois miles have been reported in the Mediterranean. The study authors found and identified at least 23 specimens, some of which exhibited the first lionfish mating behavior ever seen in the Mediterranean.

Hall-Spencer says the Mediterranean was previously believed to have been too cold for the species to survive. But rising sea temperatures caused by manmade climate change have made the sea livable for the lionfish, he says. The deepening and widening of the Suez Canal has also played a role, as previously the canal had high salt areas that stopped the transport of species, he says.

“With more flushing of water going through, it’s more conducive to the spread of invasive species,” he says.

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SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor, Aidan Quigley