RRF has responded to an urgent call to reduce impacts of a possible lionfish invasion in the Brazilian Atlantic Islands World Heritage Site, which without rapid intervention threaten to decimate this world-class marine ecosystem.

Fernando de Noronha archipelago is located in the South Atlantic Ocean. This important site supports biological processes of the region and the rich waters are vital breeding and feeding grounds for tuna, shark, turtle and marine mammals. The archipelago is at the extreme southern limit for corals in the Atlantic Ocean, and hosts several endemic coral species. The largest number of seabirds in the Western Atlantic is also concentrated on these islands.

Lionfish invasion in the Caribbean has proved to be a biological disaster. They lack natural predators and reproduce very quickly. Lionfish are voracious predators and can devastate local populations of fish which maintain the coral reef ecosystem.

Learning from difficult lessons in the Caribbean where actions started very late, RRF made a grant of $28,700 to Projeto Conservação Recifal (PCR) to mitigate the issue before lionfish populations establish. While possible lionfish observations in early 2018 have not been corroborated, early preparation is invaluable to minimize the impact of a potential invasion.

The project is monitoring the coral reefs and inspecting them for lionfish occurrence. If necessary, it will implement a rapid cull together with local managers. A participatory lionfish detection and monitoring system might be established with local dive shops and an online platform set up to record any lionfish occurrence. This will provide early information about any lionfish arrivals, and help management authorities to focus mitigation efforts appropriately.

Outreach on Fernando de Noronha is raising awareness of lionfish and the threat they pose to the reef. PCR is instructing local fishers on fishing techniques for the species, so that they can, if necessary, contribute to controlling populations in the future, beyond the course of the grant.
The project is also developing models for predicting possible lionfish invasion scenarios into the archipelago and identification of the most susceptible areas (based one ecological, physical and oceanographical aspects). The idea is that more susceptible areas will require more frequent monitoring.

These swift actions aim to reduce impacts of a potential lionfish invasion which could lead to catastrophic ecosystem collapse. The collaboration with local fishers and dive organisations will also act to reduce potential negative economic and social impacts from lionfish, by securing the resources their industries depend on. Ultimately, this will protect the Brazilian Atlantic Islands World Heritage site, which is of such great importance for marine life across the South Atlantic.

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Reducing impacts of a potential lionfish invasion in the Brazil Atlantic Islands