Marine biologists from the University of Plymouth are to work with counterparts in Cyprus on a project seeking to stem a lionfish invasion in the Mediterranean Sea.
The venomous fish has been identified as the most ecologically harmful species to be invading southern European waters, and is responsible for significant impacts on biodiversity due to its predatory behaviour and rapid reproduction.
Working with the University of Cyprus, Plymouth scientists will be helping to coordinate a number of different activities, including the development and implementation of an early surveillance and detection system, and a removal response strategy.
Professor Jason Hall-Spencer, Principal Investigator for Plymouth on the project, said:
“The lionfish is the most ecologically harmful species in the Atlantic. Our aim is to make Cyprus the first line of defence against the invasion in the Mediterranean. It is vital that we help the region to develop the necessary capacity and mechanisms to do this otherwise the spread will continue, risking a range of ecological and economic impacts for Mediterranean countries.”Working with the University of Cyprus, Plymouth scientists will be helping to coordinate the development and implementation of an early surveillance and detection system, and a removal response strategy.
The four-year project, RELIONMED – funded by €1,676,077 from the European Union’s LIFE programme – follows on from research conducted last year, which showed that the lionfish had colonised the south eastern coast of Cyprus in just one year, moving in from the Red Sea via the Suez Canal.
Lionfish are generalist carnivores and can feed on a variety of fish and crustaceans. They spawn every four days, year-round, producing around two million buoyant gelatinous eggs per year, which can ride the ocean currents and cover large distances for about a month before they settle.
Their success at invading new territories stems from a combination of factors such as early maturation and reproduction, and venomous spines that deter predators, and they can quickly colonise reefs and reduce biodiversity in the area.
The University of Plymouth will receive €186,800 for its role in the project, which will include further assessment of the risks associated with lionfish, the development of a handbook on detecting and removing lionfish, and the transfer of skills and knowledge to neighbouring countries.
Dr Sian Rees, Co-Investigator on the project, and a Senior Research Fellow at the University, said:
“The success of RELIONMED will depend upon raising awareness of the issue, and helping local commercial fishermen and recreational spear fisherman to catch and remove the fish in a safe manner. If we can make this a sustainable practice, and one that can easily be replicated in other countries, then we will stand a better chance of slowing or halting the spread of this most harmful of invasive species.”