We were having a lovely day on the beach in Puerto Morelos when we noticed a man going in and out of the water with a net and a bucket. We didn't think too much of it until a news crew showed up to interview the man. (An "only in paradise" news crew in bikini and swim trunks no less). I got my metiche (nosy) nose in the mix and approached to hear the interview and get a peek in the bucket. I saw the most beautiful fish, striped like a tiger with gorgeous wing-like fins. I promptly stepped back when I realized that I was looking at the deadly "pez leon" or lionfish. There were five in the bucket and the man said that there were a "monton" (a whole lot) right off the shore of the beach. The interview drew a crowd (I'm not the only metiche out there) and afterwards there seemed to be fewer people braving the waters on this beautiful Sunday.
The pez leon is not native to the Mexican Caribbean and is fairly new to this region. The first reports I can find are from the beginning of 2009 when people started to find this predator in the waters near Cozumel. The lionfish is more commonly found in the Indo-Pacific but have shown their ability to adapt to the warmer waters of the Caribbean Sea. There is speculation that the species was released into the Gulf of Mexico after a hurricane hit in Florida in 1992, destroying an aquarium with a few of these creatures and emptying them into the ocean. The lionfish is dangerous as it kills the coral in the reef, preys on other marine life and has poisonous spikes that can do significant damage to humans and could be deadly. The lionfish apparently has no natural enemies in these waters to help control their population and they are reproducing and spreading rapidly.
The CEA in Akumal recommends that divers report any sightings of lionfish but to NOT try to touch or capture this dangerous creature. Several environmental agencies are working together to capture and eradicate the population of lionfish in the hopes of preventing further damage to the reefs and the marine life that make this area home.
LionfishWhile this all seems dire and serious (and it is for the future of the reefs), I have read NO reports of humans being harmed by the lionfish in Quintana Roo. They tend to keep their distance from divers and snorkelers and do not aggressively attack, but all who enter the waters in Quintana Roo need to be aware of these creatures. Do not approach them and do not touch them, report any sightings to your dive master or snorkel tour leader. If the worst should happen and you should come in contact with the poisonous spines, seek medical help immediately.
photo courtesy NOAA
photo courtesy NOAA
We enjoyed the rest of our day at the beach and yes, we did return to the water, perhaps a little more trepidatiously and more aware of might be lurking, but no little fishies were going to scare us off. We'll be back in the waters soon (and keeping an eye out for these gorgeous killers).