Learning about lionfish

Expedition volunteer story - Teaching children in the Belizean fishing village of Sarteneja about invasive lionfish, and how they can play their part in protecting the Mesoamerican barrier reef!

By Susan Adams, expedition volunteer, Belize

As an interdisciplinary marine conservation organisation, Blue Ventures targets its efforts across many levels. In Belize, the main focus is tackling the lionfish invasion that is threatening to decimate juvenile fish populations in the local reefs, including supporting the Sarteneja Fishermen Association‘s “promoting lionfish as an alternative fisheries target species” project.

One of the project’s activities is a competition in which primary school children designed and painted signs about lionfish, while the high school children developed banners using power point, to raise awareness about this invasive species within the local community.

Winnie and Frida help high school students design their banners advertising lionfish consumption.
Winnie and Frieda help high school students to design their banners promoting lionfish consumption

At Bacalar Chico Dive Camp, we saw first hand the impact that lionfish are having on native fish stocks. In particular, lionfish compete with lobster – a key local fishery – for habitat, and with other fish for food. They become sexually mature at well under a year old, can reproduce every four days, and live for up to 15 years. So we are talking about ONE HECK OF A LOT of lionfish! First seen in Belize in 2008 and lacking predators, lionfish have multiplied at an exponential rate. Needless to say, we saw them on every dive.

These students have no doubt, after listening to BV volunteers they know exactly what they want to say!
These students have no doubt about what they want to say!

People usually only know one fact about lionfish, that they have venomous spines that REALLY hurt if they sting you. But what is equally true is that if the dorsal, anal and ventral venomous spines are removed, then the fish can be prepared to eat quite safely just as you would any other fish. We encouraged the children to tell their fisherman fathers that they could fish for lionfish, and that both a domestic and foreign market is slowly developing.

Over the past two days, volunteers and staff travelled by truck and on foot to some of the primary and high schools in Copperbank, Chunox and Sarteneja to talk to them about the problems lionfish are causing to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.

Susan, Teddy and Jake presenting to one of the primary school classes.
Susan, Teddy and Jake presenting to one of the primary school classes

Us expedition volunteers prepared a presentation on lionfish that we presented to the classes, giving us the opportunity to cement our own knowledge about the issue. Following our presentations, we split the children into groups and they dived into the tasks with great enthusiasm and creativity.

Making signs is challenging for the children, but at the end we have a variety of different messages to display.
The children worked hard on making these signs, and in the end we had a variety of different messages to display

The signs and banners will be entered in a competition, and the school from which the winning entries are drawn will receive a prize. Blue Ventures will also display all of the signs and banners at its booth over the Easter Weekend, during which Sarteneja has a sailing regatta: local fisherman race their boats, live music plays at the beachfront, and it’s a big celebration.

Students from the Copperbank primary school hold up their signs.
Students from the Copperbank primary school hold up their signs

I have loved my time on the Blue Ventures expedition, and can’t wait to start spreading the word about lionfish back at home!

About Guest author

Guest authors include expedition volunteers, independent researchers and medical elective students.