Into the lion’s den
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

April 13, 2014

A few months back I was invited to go lionfish hunting. Over the course of my time in Curacao, I’ve grown to appreciate the hunt of these creatures. As many know, lionfish are invasive to the Caribbean since the 1990s and pose a significant risk to local ecosystems. These apex predators are generalist feeders and highly reproductive, threatening to wipe out juvenile reef fish known as adults to have important and distinct reef functions. The full effect and risk of the lionfish invasion is still largely unknown, but most islands are trying to error on the side of caution by promoting the removal of the lionfish from Caribbean reefs.

The invasive lionfish

The first lionfish was reported on Curaçao on October 27, 2009

Heading out with friends for a hunt at the end of the week became somewhat of a tradition towards the end of my stay in Curacao. It was nice to see like-minded individuals, mostly fellow marine biologists who would wait until they had a clean shot on a fish, ensuring to avoid hitting living corals. If there is no shot to be had, it is best not take one at all, as the fish are quickly habituated to the practice, making them that much harder to catch on subsequent dives. I watched friends comb the reef while effortlessly managing their buoyancy, allowing them to stay off the delicate corals. This would result in the removal of lionfish while leaving little to no other trace of disturbance behind, not to mention a tasty meal at the end of the day.

When the invitation came to join another group for a dive, I was hesitant. I knew it was not a bunch of marine biologists, but a group with very separate motivations, fundamentally different from my own. A friend kept asking though, and ultimately I accepted. Exhaling the air from my BCD, my eyes dropped below the surface, and as the reef came into view, we were off. The dive started out as most, but within minutes the stark contrast from diving with friends became evident very quickly. People shooting lionfish into corals, bouncing along the reef, kicking up sediment, and general chaos was the name of the game.

Finishing the dive, I was frustrated and after it was made clear that no one else had any intention of keeping, cleaning, and using the fish, I was biting my tongue. I gathered up the fish, located a ride home and left. That could have been the end of that, a lesson in trusting one’s own gut. But it wasn’t. After being dropped off and putting the fish on ice, my friend convinced me to go back to the beach and have a drink with the very same divers. Maybe I was tired, maybe I just didn’t care at that point anymore, but I ended up back at the beach with a beer in hand.

Staying polite, I talked with these guys and over the course of the conversation, found some things we had in common. After awhile, the ice had been broken and feeling that everyone was more engaged, I ventured down the road of mentioning what I had seen on the dive. After some discussion, I realized that most of what I said, confirmed initial concerns already present within them and discussing it just brought those concerns to the surface. I found them to be genuinely engaged and interested in finding better ways to hunt. I wouldn’t say everyone changed his way that night. What I would say is that I knew this was a group I would disagree with and if I hadn’t taken the chance to interact with them, their actions would continue unchanged. Having meaningfully engaged with a few of them allowed for a seed to be planted of an alternative method from the one they knew; one that I hope has grown to become the norm. I do know that one of these guys became a friend and ended up helping my fellow colleagues and I on subsequent research dives.

So what I ended up taking away from this was not to trust one’s own gut, but that if we disagree with people, there may be almost even more reason to spend time with them, try to understand them, and ultimately communicate with them. Who knows, maybe it’s just because he, she, they or we… just didn’t know any better.

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