Congratulations to two divers who had the good sense to report and then capture an exotic fish. Their actions might have prevented its establishment in Florida waters.
The two first noted the small, bright yellow fish while SCUBA diving beneath Palm Beach County’s Blue Heron Bridge, and realized that they never had seen one like it. They took photos and later reported what they had seen to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), a non-profit that keeps track of exotic marine fish species.
According to the Miami Herald, REEF identified the fish as a mimic lemon peel surgeonfish, also known as a chocolate surgeonfish. It’s native to the Indo-Pacific, and this was its first sighting in Florida waters. Upon learning that, the divers returned to where they had first seen the fish and captured it.
"We don’t know what the effects would have been if the fish had become established and began reproducing,” REEF said. “But if we wait to find out, then it’s too late.”
Taking out the surgeonfish could prove to be the fourth preemptive strike against a non-native marine fish species in Florida coastal waters, according to the organization.
In 1999 and 2002, REEF staff and volunteers captured four large Indo-Pacific batfish from Molasses Reef in Key Largo. In 2009, they removed a whitetail dascyllus damselfish from the east side of the Blue Heron Bridge. In 2012, Miami divers Greg Caterino and Wayne Grammes speared an exotic humpback grouper on a reef off Biscayne National Park and turned the carcass over to REEF. None of those three species are known to have reappeared in Florida waters since their removals.
“Some people might say, ‘Oh big deal, we took this little fish out of the water,’” REEF said. “But that’s the way the lionfish got started. If only we could have taken the first few lionfish out of the water in the first place. We’re relying on divers, snorkelers and fishermen to be our eyes and ears on the water. It’s a perfect example of how early detection and rapid removal can be successful in stemming an invasion.”
Anyone who spots a strange-looking fish that they suspect is invasive is advised to take a photo and report the sighting to REEF.