Last Tuesday we went to the “Lion Fish Awareness Festival” at The Dive Shop. Not something we would choose to go to spontaneously maybe (we're not divers), but some of our friends were part of the organizing committee and invited us to come.
It was fun and I actually learned a lot, even though I wasn't completely unaware of the lionfish problems. I knew they are not native in this part of the world, but migrated here, and that they are a big threat to the reefs. That's why hunting and killing them is encouraged. They're trying to turn it into a sustainable industry by harvesting the meat for food and using the spines and the fins to make jewelry.
What I learned:
1. The reason why lionfish are such a big threat is that they eat the fishes (often before they get a chance to reproduce) that eat the algae that would kill the reef by covering the corals. Isn't nature fascinatingly complicated? Also, the lionfish reproduce incredibly fast, so the threat is getting bigger and bigger.
2. I learned how corals reproduce and grow. It was not a significant part of the festival (that turned into food and drinks and music rather quickly), but the singer of the band said: "If you want to see baby corals you need to go with that lady there."
I was a bit bored, T. was talking with someone else and hey... babies. Who doesn't want to see babies? So I joined the group.
We were led into a laboratory and got a very interesting lecture about corals from the lady who turned out being there to do her Ph.D. on that subject.
I already knew corals are animals and should have concluded that this means they reproduce by sperm entering eggs, but I never thought about how they would do this (corals are static like plants). Well, it's actually quite simple: they release everything into the water and that's where fertilization takes place.
But fertilization has to take place within two hours. So the corals actually synchronize the release with the other corals. After years of study, they found out they pinpoint the month by the water temperature, the day by the moon cycle and the hour by the sunset. Now researchers are able to calculate when the corals will release and they collect the eggs and sperm to make sure more eggs are fertilized than there would be naturally. They showed us the larvae (so tiny that you can only see small dots in the water) and baby corals. We needed a microscope for that, but only four days after the larvae attached themselves to an (in this case fake) reef, they already grew a mouth and tentacles to feed themselves and started to grow the skeleton we see as coral.
They also showed us a coral that was about five years old. It was only the size of a thumb. They grow really slow. That's why breaking off a tiny bit of coral as a souvenir is so devastating for a reef.
3. I didn't learn how lionfish tastes. You could buy it there and have it prepared in a few ways, but we never got to it. A few friends did taste it. One of them spit it out (said it tasted/ had a texture like raw fish), but most of them liked it. I was told it has a firm texture and doesn't taste too fishy. Someday I'll try it. I think. (I used to like fish, but here - with those high temperatures - it never tastes that good to me.)
I did learn though that there's only a small part of the fish that's edible. It's also rather time-consuming to clean the fish. You have to be very careful since the spikes stay poisonous for a while after the fish dies. You have to put them in the freezer for a week for the poison to disappear. But as I said earlier, nothing was wasted. The spines and fins were saved to make jewelry, the meat was eaten and the guts were fed to stray cats.
See an example of corals spawning here on Youtube
organizer of the event, pictures of jewelry made from fins and spines: Lionfish Caribbean
Linking up with Carole's Three on Thursday
first photo from pexels.com
second photo also from pexels.com
third and last photo by me (with my phone, and I cropped off the face of the person who was cleaning the fish, so not the best quality)