Lionfish are native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans and live there in a balanced ecosystem. In 1985 lionfish were spotted off the east coast of Florida, most likely introduced there by aquarium owners discarding these beautiful fish into the ocean.
Since then, lionfish have relentlessly invaded the western Atlantic, with scientists estimating well over a million fish devastating reefs and fisheries in all warm water regions, especially around Florida, throughout the Caribbean, and Bermuda. Moreover, the population continues to expand rapidly without check. Lionfish mature in 12 months and spawn approximately 30,000 eggs every 4–5 days, or about 2 million eggs per year.
Lionfish are indiscriminate and voracious predators that do not stop feeding. They gorge on at least 70 different species of reef fish and crustaceans and are capable of eating prey up to half the size of their own body. A single lionfish can reduce the fish biomass on a reef by 80% in just one month.
Lionfish are armed with 18 venomous spines making them an unattractive food source for other marine creatures. This apex predator has almost no natural predators of its own in the Atlantic. With no apparent limit to their population growth, other than water temperature, lionfish pose a huge threat to the fish stock of the western Atlantic Ocean.
The unsolved disaster resulting from the infestation of lionfish in the western Atlantic begs for new ideas and a new approach. To be effective, the solution needs to be widely deployable and be economically self-sustaining. It needs to be able to reach large lionfish populations deep underwater, as well as guard reefs from infestation. The operators must be non-professionals who can deploy and maintain the solution without extensive training. Here at RSE, we believe all these requirements can be met with properly designed, manufactured, and deployed underwater robots.