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In February 2008 a juvenile Indo—pacific Red Lionfish was removed from a dive site in Little Cayman and since then many others have been removed from Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. While it may seem exciting to see this fish on a dive it is quite disturbing when you realize that this species is only supposed to be found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

So what’s it doing in the Atlantic Ocean? While no one knows exactly how they arrived in the Atlantic, the two most accepted methods are: accidental or intentional release of aquarium fish into the marine environment; and transport of the species in the ballast water of ships. The only confirmed release was during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when 6 lionfish were liberated from an aquarium into Biscayne Bay. Lionfish have now been documented along the entire US East Coast from Florida through Massachusetts, east to Bermuda and south throughout the Bahamas and in other Caribbean nations such as Turks and Caicos, Jamaica and Cuba in depths ranging from 2 to 500 feet!

Allowing lionfish to establish themselves in our waters can lead to serious problems because they are:

  • Ravenous predators being shown to eat juvenile fish and crustaceans (shrimps, lobsters, etc.) in large quantities.
  • Not known to have many native predators
  • Equipped with venomous spines which deter predators and can cause painful wounds in humans.
  • Capable of reproducing monthly with unique reproduction mechanisms not commonly found in native fishes. Can reproduce at around 1 year old.
  • Each month they produce approximately 30,000 eggs.
  • Relatively resistant to parasites, giving them another advantage over native species.
  • Fast in their growth, able to outgrow most native species with whom they compete for food and space.

It is well established that red lionfish will stand their ground when harassed and, when threatened, will arch their backs, pointing their dorsal spines at the aggressor, and swim forward rapidly in order to inflict a sting. Poisoning of the hand from the venomous sting has been the most common injury. It should also be stressed that serious wounds have also resulted from the careless handling of recently dead specimens. The sting of the red lionfish causes intense pain immediately and leads to several hours of extreme pain, depending upon the amount of venom received. Other symptoms of the sting may include swelling, redness, bleeding, nausea, numbness, joint pain, anxiety, headache, disorientation, dizziness, nausea, paralysis, and convulsions.

When diving, especially in a wreck, cave or swim—through, be aware of the areas above you as lionfish are able to rest, upside down, on the ceilings of these features. Divers have been stung by lionfish they were not aware of.

For these reasons the Department of Environment (DoE) has taken the stand that these fish must be removed from our waters as soon as possible.


Please report sightings to the DoE at any of the contact numbers listed below. If they are caught while fishing do not attempt to remove them from your line and do not release them back into the ocean. Please put them in a bucket, or similar container, and call the DoE to collect the fish.

If you or someone you know gets stung by a lionfish it is advised to immerse the wound in hot but non—scalding water for 30—90 minutes and seek medical attention immediately.

Lionfish, Invasive Marine Species

Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans)


  • Please report sightings to DoE (949—8469) or
  • Grand Cayman — Mark (916—4271)
  • Little Cayman — Robert (926—2342)
  • Cayman Brac — Erbin (926-0136)

For further information contact: Susan Watler