Pest: A diver catches several lionfish during a single dive. *Photo courtesy of the Ocean Support Foundation
Pest: A diver catches several lionfish during a single dive. *Photo courtesy of the Ocean Support Foundation

FRIDAY, AUGUST 31: The battle against Bermuda’s invasive lionfish population has taken a leap forward thanks to a new web tool allowing the public to report sightings and other useful data online.

The ‘Report A Lionfish’ feature appears on the newly revamped website of marine conservation charity the Ocean Support Foundation which, along with government, is leading efforts to combat the problem.

The species has no known natural predators in the Atlantic Ocean and pose a threat to our own fish stocks.

The charity’s main goal is to reduce the population to levels to avoid the devastating effects on fish stocks being seen in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the Western Atlantic.

OSF president and founder Graham Maddocks told the Bermuda Sun: “We will have an interactive map and we can take all that data and pinpoint it on the map.

“This gives us even more  accountability giving us data that we can keep. This is a scientific effort so we are really trying to get people involved to help.”

The public can submit data such as the GPS coordinates of the sightings, depth, and habitat and even stomach contents.

The new feature is part of a major overhaul of the OSF website which includes more in depth information, video content, faster downloads and a visual map showing the rapid spread of lionfish throughout the Caribbean and into South America over the past 27 years.

“We’ve added more articles and updated news stories and I encourage people to go on it at least once a week because they will get the new information and updates coming in from other organizations. The lionfish story is reshaping and changing all the time,” said Mr Maddocks.

The Ocean Support Foundation has also written a specialty course for international scuba diving training organization PADI that will teach divers how to spear lionfish on scuba and how to handle them afterwards.

“Now tourist and residents can participate in the culling process.”

Residents can apply for annual permits from the Department of Fisheries to spear lionfish — a similar process to the island’s lobster divers. They will be issued with a plastic disk that will identify them as a registered lionfish hunter and confirm that they have paid their annual fee.

Finding out the numbers and locations of lionfish in our waters is the first step of a five-year plan. The charity plans to target 20 random locations around the island with the aim of finding hotspots.

“Once we have done that, we can hit those hotspots and in another year or two we can go back and do the counts again. The most important thing is to be able to have accurate data but repeatable data.”

OSF is currently raising funds to help in its mission to combat the lionfish invasion. Amongst its advisory committee are local and international business leaders Jim Butterfield, Brian Dupperrault, James Gibbons and Robert Steinhoff as well as naturalist Judy Clee and Academy Award winning actor Michael Douglas.

• Anyone interested in finding out more about the Ocean Support Foundation or donating to the charity can do so by visiting www.oceansupport.org or by calling 704-5406.