An Invasion Has Begun and the Suez Canal Might be to Blame
Theories mount as an invasive fish takes over the Mediterranean.
An invasion might have just been started by Egyptians - no not the alien kind, but the fish kind. The spiky-finned stinging lionfish originally hails from the Indo-Pacific region but in a new academic paper by the Marine Biodiversity Records "researchers describe what may be the beginning of a lionfish invasion off the coast of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea." According to the Washington Post "scientists believe that a recent widening and deepening of the Suez Canal in Egypt...has made the invasion possible."
The invasion is a serious matter because the fish are acting in an usually social fashion, which is a sign of increased mating. Jason Hall-Spencer, a marine biology professor at Plymouth University told the university paper, “This is the first time they’ve been seen congregating [in the area]." If they truly are breeding this is will be extremely dangerous because "lionfish tend to breed quickly and can produce hundreds of eggs at a time."
This large scale breeding will wreak havoc upon the ecosystem. The lionfish is a predator and will harm the balance among the native species, or as Hall-Spencer put it, “They’ll basically eat anything they can get into their mouths and have very few natural predators." Yeah, this means they can and probably will eat their new ecosystem and will use their venomous spines and sharp sting to hurt anything that gets in their way.
Thankfully scientists report that a sting from the lionfish can be extremely painful but is rarely ever deadly for humans. Which is good because Hall-Spencer and many other scientists in the field are part of a campaign which promotes cooking and eating the fish in over populated and non-native environments. This is something that is quite trendy throughout the world according to LionFish Hunting.co and Conservation Magazine even has published an article about how to safely eat the fish. Perhaps this means that Mediterranean cuisine will soon be adding the invasive fish to their menus.
While we wait to have battered and fried lionfish with a side of lasagna, Hall-Spencer is pleading for the Suez Canal to enact stronger biosecurity measures to prevent further fish escapes. He stated, “It would be great if they had some locks...these would prevent water from flowing freely through the canal and would allow standing water to begin evaporating from the contained areas. As the seawater evaporates and leaves salt behind, the overall salt content of the remaining liquid water would rise and eventually become too high for fish to survive."
This is quite contrary to a statement by the Egyptian government from February 2015, which primarily blames human activities for the changes in fish migration patterns; "Human activities and pressures on the maritime environment are of the most major factors that help the spread of alien species and facilitate a process of invasion either in the environments that are subject to strong human pressures or the environments that are ever-changing and unstable by their nature."
We're not sure what is causing the migration, but we hope the ecosystem of the Mediterranean does not end up battered because of it.