Saturday, March 13, 2010

Balance of nature

We have lots of beautiful fish on our reefs, but here is one of the gaudiest -- a lionfish, a native of the Southeast Pacific, popular with folks who keep aquaria. Somehow, a few individuals were released or escaped into the waters near Florida, and, according to reports, they are spreading throughout the Bahamas like weeds. My son-in-law spotted one on the reef in front of the house, and with my granddaughter saw another on a reef just to the north of here. The lionfish have arrived.

They have no natural predators in the Atlantic. They have voracious appetites for other reef denizens, and for the young of local food fish. An adult grouper (an island staple) will apparently gobble a lionfish, but lionfish go about hoovering up grouper young. So far the lionfish appears to be winning that particular battle. And, to top it off, the spines of lionfish are venomous to humans.

It's all one big world now. Viruses and tropical birds wing around the globe at nearly the speed of sound. The lionfish may have made it to the Atlantic on a jet liner from Auckland, via a aquarium in Boca Raton. Oh, it's pretty, all right. I'd love to see one on the reef. But beauty is not always benevolent. "Beauty is the beginning of terror," wrote the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. I'm not quite sure what he had in mind, but the lionfish fits the bill.