More than 100 invasive Pacific lionfish have been captured and killed in the Virgin Islands since the first one was spotted November 2008.

The zebra-striped predators with poisonous spines are voracious eaters and can destroy coral reefs by gobbling up reef fish at an alarming rate. They have no natural predators in the Caribbean and the population is growing rapidly.

To date, 102 lionfish have been removed from V.I. waters. While the number is staggering and growing every week, quick local action and public education has curbed the explosion from what it could have been. So far, St. Croix has seen the largest number of lionfish with 89 of the 102 caught. St. Thomas has had 10 and St. John has had four.

But despite a massive VI public outreach campaign and a group of dedicated snorkelers, scuba divers and fisherman maintaining a vigilant watch over the territory’s reefs, the problem continues to grow.

Because the fish are found in a wide range of water depths, it is very difficult to know where to look. Local wildlife officials are asking the public to mark the area when a lionfish is spotted and report it. William Coles, chief of environmental education at the V.I. Division of Fish and Wildlife, has developed a unique tool for marking a lionfish area. A wine cork tied to a metal washer by a three foot length of brightly colored surveying tape is easy to make, carry with you and gives lionfish hunters a clear indication of where to look for the fish.

The Department of Planning and Natural Resources is looking for donations of materials to make the markers and plan to distribute them throughout the territory.

To report a lionfish sighting, contact 693-1393 on St. Thomas. On St. Croix, call 773-1082 or 643-0800. On St. John, contact the National Park at 693-8950 ext. 225 or 224.

(resource: VirginIslandsDailyNews.com)