Making Cyprus the first line of defence against the invasion of lionfish into the Mediterranean is the aim of the Relionmed-Life project, its officials said this week.
The project was presented as one among a variety supported by the department of the environment. The department is the national contact point for such projects and aims to empower them, offering free support to applicants, before, during and after they are running a project.
Among other measures to get rid of the invasive species, which threatens to eat other species, the organisers, the Life Cyclamen project team, suggest the exploration of small local market niches which would make removal of the fish economically sustainable.
Though the fish has a venomous sting, it can be eaten, and one idea is to include it in restaurant menus and get fishermen to catch it for this purpose.
Another idea is to make jewellery and other items from the beautifully-coloured fish.
As a start, the risks associated with the invasion of the fish need to be assessed, and stakeholders will be informed.
More than 400 lionfish will be collected during the project via coordinated removal competitions and surveillance system-guided expeditions.
It is especially important to prioritise removal from areas such as the Natura 2000 and marine protected areas.
“It is anticipated that by the end of the project most active divers – at least 100 – and their networks will contribute to the surveillance and removal of lionfish, while more than 300 other stakeholders such as fishermen and NGOs will become aware of the issue,” the team announced.
They hope to develop mechanisms in Cyprus so the country can act effectively against the invasion and build knowledge from which other countries in the region can benefit.
Partners in the project are the University of Cyprus, the University of Plymouth, Marine & Environmental Research (MER) Lab Ltd, the Envalia Nature Research Centre and the department of fisheries and marine research.
The lionfish is known for its venomous fin rays. The potency of its venom makes it an excellent predator and hazardous to fishermen and divers.
In addition to being a danger to humans, the lionfish is a strong predator, feeding on smaller fish and invertebrates and can cause large reductions in other species of the Mediterranean, resulting in significant ecological and socio-economic impacts. The species started to invade areas around Cyprus in 2016 and is rapidly growing.
To learn more about the Life Cyclamen project visit www.lifecyclamen.com.cy