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New 'Watch List' Helps Citizens Report Invasive Marine Fish; 'Non-native Fishes Can Have Cascading Effects'

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For the first time, a field guide for non-native marine fishes can be used to help prevent the establishment of invasive species that could pose risks to Florida’s coastal ecosystems.

A team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Reef Environmental and Education Foundation (REEF) recently published the illustrated “watch list”. The guide is part of a larger effort to protect US coastal waters from the threats posed by invasive marine fishes.

“Non-native fishes can have cascading effects that ultimately degrade the productivity and diversity of coral ecosystems,” said Dr. Pam Schofield, a USGS biologist and lead author of the field guide.

Many non-native fish spotted in coastal waters are thought to be aquarium fish that were released or escaped captivity. There may be a small window of opportunity to remove these invasive fish immediately, before they begin reproducing.

“Once they are established – that is, once their populations are self-sustaining – there’s no known method for eradicating them,” added Dr. Schofield.

The red lionfish, which was first documented off Florida in 1985, provides an example of what can happen once an invasive fish species becomes established. It is now widespread along the southeast U.S.A. and parts of the Caribbean, preying upon ecologically-important native species such as fishes and crustaceans.

“So far the red lionfish (Pterois volitans) is the only non-native marine fish that is established and poses an immediate threat to south Florida’s reefs”, said NOAA ecologist Dr. James A. Morris, Jr. “Lionfish will likely compete with native species adding yet another problem for our already-stressed coral reefs.”

To help prevent the establishment of new non-native fishes in Florida's marine waters, the USGS, NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, and REEF published the new field guide as part of their efforts to detect and remove non-native marine fishes as soon as they are discovered. The guide provides descriptions of non-native marine fish species that have been seen along Florida’s coasts, and includes maps of the sightings.

“We published this guide as a tool for preventing non-native fishes from becoming established,” said Dr. Schofield. “We’re tracking sightings of all the non-native fishes listed in this field guide. We hope that divers, fisherman, and others will use the guide to report non-natives right away and help prevent what happened with the lionfish.”

The Field Guide to Nonindigenous Marine Fishes of Florida was authored by Pam Schofield (USGS), James A. Morris, Jr. (NOAA), and Lad Akins (REEF). It can be found online at

Suspected non-native fish can be reported to the USGS-NAS database.

If you want to help by volunteering your time to survey reefs, contact REEF (

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