Lionfish have been spotted near Brazil’s Fernando de Noronha Marine National Park, a biodiversity haven and iconic scuba diving destination off the country’s northeastern coast.
First spotted in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida in the 1980s, they later spread across the Caribbean, reshuffling coral reefs and other ecosystems by feasting on fish unfamiliar with the voracious predator.
While ocean currents that flow north—such as the South Equatorial Current—and the freshwater plume created by the Amazon River hampered the spread of the invasive species, scientists predicted it was just a matter of time before it moved into Brazilian waters.
As the fish have now reached areas where the Brazil current flows south, speeding the spread of drifting larvae and vast new swaths of ecologically rich waters are now at risk.
So far, no measure has been found to eradicate or even slow the spread of invasive lionfish, which grow fast and breed prolifically.
Of particular concern is the impact on Brazil’s oceanic islands, including Fernando de Noronha, an archipelago 350 kilometres offshore. These islands are home to dozens of endemic reef fish species that are typically small and roam in limited areas which is exactly the kind of prey that lionfish prefer. So far, researchers have documented 170 lionfish around Fernando de Noronha, mostly in shallower reefs. But many more are likely living and breeding in deeper seas.