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Behold the Lionfish, as Transfixing as It Is Destructive

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The silence underwater is overwhelming. Time passes quickly. Having spotted my goal, I concentrate on it intensely, knowing that if I miss, and the animal gets away, it could learn from the encounter and be harder to hunt in the longer term.

As I approach, armed with my spear, I watch because the fish spreads its wide pectoral fins, displaying its venomous spines. (Slow and straightforward to identify, it relies on this intimidating display to discourage would-be predators.) I take aim, pull back on my spear’s spring-loaded handle and let the weapon fly.

I learned to free-dive and hunt underwater as a baby, but spearfishing is not any longer thrilling to me. As an adult I took up interests in marine biology and underwater photography, ultimately trading the spear gun of my childhood for my first skilled underwater camera. Not long afterward, I accomplished a master’s degree in marine biology. For the last 10 years I’ve lived on the small Caribbean island of Bonaire, where I work as a marine conservationist photographer.

My overarching goal is to document the efforts of the local people — scientists, skilled divers and volunteers — to preserve the reefs of Bonaire. And here, a major a part of the collective preservation effort is concentrated on a specific goal: the lionfish (Pterois miles and Pterois volitans).

Lionfish are native to the Pacific and Indian oceans. But up to now few many years, the animal has established itself within the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, where its invasive presence poses a serious threat to tropical Atlantic reefs and their associated habitats.

The consequences are staggering. One study by scientists from Oregon State University found that, in just five weeks, a single lionfish reduced the juvenile fish in its feeding zone by 80 percent. And their reproductive output is remarkably high: Females can release around 25,000 eggs every few days. In some places, including the Bahamas, the density of lionfish may perhaps be causing the most important change to biodiversity of reef habitats for the reason that dawn of industrialized fishing.

Communities throughout the Caribbean have employed plenty of strategies to stem the expansion of lionfish populations. Bonaire relies on volunteer lionfish hunters; on partnerships with Stichting Nationale Parken Bonaire, or STINAPA, a nonprofit foundation that manages Bonaire’s nature parks; and on help from local dive shops.

Divers offer a precise type of population management, since underwater hunting ends in little collateral damage. But divers are limited by the depth to which they’ll comfortably descend — often around 60 feet. In places where lionfish are found at greater depths, traps may also be employed.

Because spearfishing is prohibited on Bonaire, and to assist prevent injury, special tools were developed and distributed to assist divers with their hunts. The ELF tools — “ELF” stands for “eradicate lionfish” — also help prevent damage that traditional spear guns and nets inflict on reefs.

While catching a lionfish is comparatively easy, it may well be difficult — and dangerous — to remove the fish from the spear tip of an ELF and tow the animal without being injured by its venomous spines. Thus, lionfish hunters also began using a tool called a “zookeeper” — essentially a chunk of PVC pipe that’s closed at one end and has a modified plastic funnel at the opposite end. Once the lionfish is speared on the ELF, the fish (and spear tip) are inserted into the zookeeper; when the spear is withdrawn, the fish is trapped contained in the pipe by the funnel.

Travel Trends That Will Define 2022

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Looking ahead. As governments the world over loosen coronavirus restrictions, the travel industry hopes this might be the 12 months that travel comes roaring back. Here is what to anticipate:

Lodging. Throughout the pandemic, many travelers discovered the privacy offered by rental residences. Hotels hope to compete again by offering stylish extended-stay properties, sustainable options, rooftop bars and co-working spaces.

Rental cars. Travelers can expect higher prices, and older cars with high mileage, since firms still haven’t been capable of expand their fleets. Searching for an alternate? Automotive-sharing platforms could be a cheaper option.

Cruises. Despite a bumpy begin to the 12 months, because of Omicron’s surge, demand for cruises stays high. Luxury expedition voyages are particularly appealing at once, because they typically sail on smaller ships and steer away from crowded destinations.

Destinations. Cities are officially back: Travelers are wanting to dive into the sights, bites and sounds of a metropolis like Paris or Recent York. For a more relaxing time, some resorts within the U.S. are pioneering an almost all-inclusive model that takes the guesswork out of planning a vacation.

Experiences. Travel options centered around sexual wellness (think couples retreats and beachfront sessions with intimacy coaches) are growing popular. Trips with an academic bent, meanwhile, are increasingly wanted by families with children.

Once I first arrived on Bonaire, I used to be introduced to the conservation project geared toward eradicating the lionfish. Due to my experience as a spear fisher, I used to be immediately asked to get entangled. I agreed to participate — though my true interest was in documenting the community’s efforts.

Since then, I’ve change into fascinated by the destructive capabilities of the transfixing creature.

It feels cruel to kill something so hypnotically beautiful — although I understand, rationally, that the act is ecologically helpful. The lionfish, in spite of everything, isn’t accountable; it likely ended up here, scientists theorize, when aquarium owners dumped unwanted specimens off the coast of Florida, possibly because they were eating their way through the opposite fish sharing their tanks.

And yet killing the fish, one after the other, is maybe the perfect approach to slow the havoc they’re wreaking on the Caribbean reefs.

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