Gladiators had lions to contend with during the “blood sport” games in Ancient Rome. And when you think scuba divers, a sort of modern-day gladiator, you probably think of them contending with sharks, the “Jaws” that rule the ocean waters.
But recently scuba pros and amateurs alike have been pitting themselves against one of the most noxious and destructive creatures of the blue ocean waters off of Florida.
The red lionfish (Pterois volitans), a native to Indo-Pacific waters, has invaded the warm waters off the coast of Florida and has increasing become a problem for the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea ecosystems according to the Oct. 19, CNN News.
Florida pet owners are to blame for the release of the non-indigenous species that can produce as many as 30 to 40 thousand eggs every few days. The lionfish have no known predators in the warm waters of the Caribbean and Southern Atlantic waters and are aggressive eaters, consuming “anything and everything” and actually “gorging so much they are actually getting liver disease,” reports CNN.
Humans are the only known predator and that's where scuba divers come in. Divers organize lionfish tournaments, derbys, rodeos, and fish fries in an effort to get a handle on the growing venomous lionfish population. Cash prizes are awarded for heaviest fish and most fish.
In 2009, the first Bahama Lionfish derby was held and 1408 lionfish were taken the first day with the first place fisherman catching 289!
And numbers like that are not unusual; most divers say that lionfish show no fear when approached and some say that the spiny fish that grow up to 20 inches in length appear as if to taunt the divers armed with spearguns and other capturing or killing devices. Their spines can puncture leather gloves and cause severe pain.
The invasive fish can live in near shoreline shallow waters to depths of 600 feet, which means the arenas where modern day gladiators, scuba divers, make sport of challenging lionfish, are as expansive as the waters in which they swim.