Divers Remove Invasive Surgeonfish
Around the end of November two female scuba divers at a dive site in Palm Beach (Florida USA) County's Blue Heron Bridge saw and photographed a small four inch long yellow fish then have never seen before. Being unable to identify it, the two divers, Deb Devers and Lureen Ferretti, sent photographs of it to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). REEF is a non-profit organization founded for the purpose of protecting reefs around the world. In recent years, its protection efforts for the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea reefs have brought it into the fight against the invasive Lion fish. The Lionfish, a native of the Pacific, has reduced fish stocks in the Caribbean drastically. Invasive species occur in many locations around the world often with devastating impact.REEF has become the regional clearing house for reports of invasive species.
"They weren't sure what it was, but they knew it was something that doesn't belong here," REEF director of special projects Lad Akins said. Akins said their instincts were right on: the fish was a mimic lemon peel surgeonfish native to the Indo-Pacific and the first of its kind documented in Florida waters.
The Mimic Lemon Peel Tang or Surgeonfish, also known as the Mimic Surgeon, or Chocolate Surgeonfish, has an oval, yellow body while a juvenile. It has blue highlights around the eyes and gill covers, mimicking the Lemonpeel Angelfish. That angelfish has few predators as its spine contains sharp quills. As the fish gets older it will grow larger than the angelfish it mimics. Based on the coloring the fish was still a juvenile. The question remains how it got there and are there others.
Deb Devers and Lureen Ferretti kept track of the fish and when they were informed that it was a possible danger, they captured it using hand nets. The fish was donated to an aquarium in Canada.
Over the years a number of invasive species had been found and removed before they became a problem. In 1999 and 2002, four large Indo-Pacific batfish were capture from Molasses Reef in Key Largo. In 2009, a whitetail dascyllus damselfish was discovered at the same Blue Heron Bridge. In 2012, two Miami divers speared an exotic humpback grouper. In the past there was not much concern about invasive species, in fact, in some cases they were deliberately brought in. However, those experiences showed that the effects cannot be reliably predicted and the policy now is to remove as soon as possible.