Mejia Martinez AY (Bay Islands Conservation Association, Honduras) ? Puncher GN (Roatan Marine Park, Honduras) ? Erzini K (Center of Marine...
Mejia Martinez AY (Bay Islands Conservation Association, Honduras) ? Puncher GN (Roatan Marine Park, Honduras) ? Erzini K (Center of Marine Sciences, Portugal) ? Gonçalves JMS (Center of Marine Sciences, Portugal)
Since the accidental introduction of the lionfish, Pterois volitans, to the Americas in 1992, it has expanded rapidly via ocean currents; its densities now exceeding that of its native range in the Indo-Pacific region. Lionfish are voracious and opportunistic predators that are capable of exacting a significant ecological impact in the Caribbean Sea where they have no natural predators, via interspecific competition, depletion of juvenile fishes and disruption of trophic assemblages. Very few studies have focused beyond the nature of their rapid expansion and few have examined their impact on coral reef communities and their potential for disrupting connectivity between adjacent tropical habitats. Lionfish were first discovered in the Bay Islands of Honduras in 2009 and they have since colonized the reef crest, deep reefs, mangroves and seagrass meadows. Local NGOs within the island archipelago's marine protected areas (MPAs), with the help of the local diving community, have been attempting to control the spread of the species by hunting down individual lionfish spotted during dives. This study will attempt to determine the ecological impact of the lionfish within mangroves, seagrasses and coral reefs of the Bay Islands by comparing the stomach contents of lionfish. The gut contents of lionfish caught within the MPAs will be compared to those caught outside of the MPAs in an effort to identify potential differences in feeding behaviour and prey type arising from nearly a decade of management efforts within the MPAs. Lionfish and potential prey densities in all habitats and locations will be estimated by underwater visual census; the first study of its kind in Honduras. Combined with gut content analyses these density surveys will act as a comprehensive estimate of the ecological impact of the invasive lionfish in the Western Caribbean Sea.