Originally from the Indo-Pacific, lionfish appeared in the Keys in 2009 and have since become a widespread problem throughout the Caribbean. They are prolific breeders, have no known predators in the Caribbean, and prey on a wide variety of indigenous reef fish. The goal of The Lionfish Project was to document the response from the Florida Keys locals to this invasive predator.  

Residents of the Keys are taking the problem of invasive lionfish into their own hands. Chefs are adding them to menus, dive masters are teaching their students to spear them, and non-profit organizations are raising awareness about the problem. The goal was to collect, synthesize, and share the stories of these innovative individuals and identify the specific techniques utilized by Florida Keys locals to regulate lionfish populations.

I spent one month traveling throughout the Keys documenting the stories of locals involved in lionfish management. Focusing specifically on the restaurants, dive shops, fishing operations, and the scientific community, the aim was to highlight how each group adapted to the spread of lionfish. Using information from the interviews and on-the-ground research, I used a website to tell the stories of these Florida Keys locals and educate visitors about the devastating impacts of invasive lionfish.

Explore the map below to see a sampling of interviewees and their approaches to invasive species management. 


What's Next 

The spread of lionfish has sparked a series of scientific research analyzing the ecological impacts of lionfish on the native coral reef ecosystem, but fewer projects have analyzed the social aspect of this problem, including how people adjust to the spread of lionfish. This research addresses a largely untapped social experiment exploring community innovation and adaptation.

A close up of a Zookeeper filled with lionfish. Credit: Lad Akins

In an age of increasing global exchange, invasive species are a global problem, affecting millions of people culturally and economically. Although each invasion presents unique challenges, communities may adapt to invasive species in similar fashions. By exploring and sharing the responses of Keys residents to lionfish, this type of social research could help communities more efficiently eradicate or adapt to these invaders and possibly prevent the establishment of other invasive species in the future.

Florida Keys locals have recognized the scope of the problem and have exhibited remarkable innovation. This project aims to highlight human creativity while emphasizing the importance of reef ecosystem conservation in an engaging way. The stories of these locals have the potential to educate and inspire others impacted by invasive species around the world. Above all, this project shows that anyone can take conservation efforts into their own hands to protect the ecosystems they love.


Photos and articles from The Lionfish Project have been featured in the National Geographic NewsWatch blog, National Geographic Weekend radio show, Lady Diver magazine, Bare Essentials magazine, Ideation magazine, and more. See the Writing & Media section to read more.