Non-Native Plants and Animals Damage Florida’s Ecology and Economy

Unwelcome Guests



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A guest who overstays his welcome is irksome. A non-native species that settles in can be downright dangerous.

When an exotic plant or animal arrives on the scene, it may turn out to be harmless or even beneficial. Citrus trees, for example, are not native to Florida, but they’ve become one of the state’s most important and iconic natural resources. However, species are considered invasive if they are likely to cause harm to the environment, the economy or humans. The introduction of invasive species disrupts Florida’s ecosystem and can lead to a loss of biodiversity.

Here are a few invasive species that have spawned concerns in Florida.

 

Lionfish

Lionfish are known for their flashy stripes and venomous spikes. While they look pretty in a saltwater aquarium, they are unwelcome in Florida waters.

Lionfish arrived off Florida’s Atlantic coast in 1985. With no natural predators and a voracious appetite, they have wreaked havoc on the environment. For example, their consumption of algae-eating species leads to an excess of algae, which can smother and kill coral reefs. Not only does this harm the sea creatures that rely on the reef, but it also affects the countless people who depend on this ecosystem for their livelihood.

Amanda Nalley of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said controlling the lionfish population requires removal, prevention and education.

Legislation was introduced beginning in 2012 to help control the lionfish population. Limits on lionfish hunting were removed; importation and breeding (except for scientific purposes) were banned.

In May 2014, the FWC introduced the Report Florida Lionfish app, which enables divers to report lionfish sightings and removal. In May 2015, the commission unveiled the new Reef Rangers program. It allows people to adopt a reef and care for it year-round by removing lionfish. Studies show that continued removal in a specific area has a positive effect.

Nalley said that of all the recent changes regarding lionfish, the most noticeable difference is awareness.

“A lot of people don’t know anything about it other than seeing it in an aquarium,” she said.

That’s why the FWC declared the first Saturday after Mother’s Day to be Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day. This year, the commission hosted a festival in Pensacola. About 3,000 people attended the event, which included a lionfish removal tournament, kid-friendly activities and even chef demonstrations. Recently, the FWC floated the idea to allow divers to take an extra lobster during the mini-season — if they removed 10 lionfish while they were at it.

Lionfish have venomous spines, but the flesh is not poisonous — in fact, many say it’s delicious. Tallahassee’s Sage Restaurant serves this flaky white fish when it’s available from local divers, creating dishes including Lionfish and Chips.

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