(DiverWire) The Cayman Islands is engaging the dive tourism industry in an effort to combat the invasive lionfish. In an unparalleled program, dive operators are providing tours to recreational divers to cull lionfish for availability at Caymanian restaurants, grocery stores and fish markets. Introduced to the region in the 1980s, the overpopulated lionfish has caused a severe imbalance in the Caribbean’s ecosystem as it lacks a natural predator. Presented to the Dive Equipment & Marketing Association during its annual trade show, the initiative is making inroads in the Cayman Islands, with dive operators noting a reduction in lionfish presence over the past few years.
The lionfish culled from these excursions are sold to local markets and large grocers, as well as many restaurants around Cayman. The fish is a popular delicacy in the region and is considered authentic Caymanian cuisine. Michael’s Genuine in Camana Bay was the first restaurant to start serving the fish and was quickly followed by others such as Papagallos, the restaurant at the Cobalt Coast Dive Resort, and Guy Harvey’s Island Grill in Georgetown.
Dive operators in Cayman are also advocating for greater awareness of the dangers lionfish pose to the aquatic environment and are educating tourists and locals alike to efforts to manage the population. Divers who wish to participate in lionfish culling must attend a class on the sea creature. Additionally, the initiative is a collective, community initiative, with non-dive industries recreational diving to haul lionfish and helping supply on-island restaurants.
Through culling efforts, Caymanian operators are learning more about the creature and have seen a reduction in the numbers surrounding Cayman. Additionally, operators are reporting that predators are emerging in the region, ranging from eels to sharks to other types of fish.
“The Cayman Islands is committed to the education and management of lionfish in our marine environment,” Premier McKeeva Bush said. “With the help of like-minded tourists, the threat of lionfish is being combated and maintaining the waters that have made Cayman a premier diving destination.”
Cayman Islands Director of Tourism Shomari Scott said that the lionfish initiative is providing another reason for tourists to visit Cayman.
“As the birthplace of recreational diving, the pristine waters surrounding Cayman have been drawing divers for years. This initiative is an example of our dedication to sustaining the incredible aquatic environment with the help of the dive community,” Scott said.
For more information on taking a dive trip to Cayman, visit www.caymanislands.ky/divecayman.