Picture credit : Simon Dowling
Pterois, also known as the Lionfish, Zebrafish, Firefish and Turkeyfish is a rarely seen fish on Koh Tao.
They can live from 5 to 15 years. The females release egg clusters over frequent periods containing up to 15,000 eggs. They can reproduce monthly.
They are a very distinctive looking fish, with many venomous spines and fans. This is called Aposematism, basically advertising their ability to defend themselves to predators with their strong colours and stripes.
Their poisonous spines can cause a variety of symptoms, although extremely painful, rarely cause fatalaties. They are not aggressive to divers and will tend to shy away, only causing harm in defense of themselves.
Although they are a rare sight on Koh Tao, there is one that lives around Junkyard dive site, and is seen every couple of weeks to divers and photographers delight. However on the other side of the world its a different story…
In 1992, a hurricane damaged an aquarium in Florida releasing 6 Lionfish into Biscayne Bay. This accident has been suggested as the starting point to the most invasive species incident in history. They are now found throughout the Eastern coast of the US, Mexico and the Caribbean and are regarded as one of the highest threat to coral reef health due to their large appetite for other fish and their high reproduction rate. This upsets the natural balance and removes key species from the area.
While research is ongoing into large scale control of the Lionfish by NOAA, until solutions are created, the Lionfish is being actively hunted by divers and volunteers and marketed as an alternative to eating overfished populations, such as Grouper or Snapper.
In Koh Tao, its a pleasure and lucky to see one of these amazing looking fish, and for now, there is no reason to go hunting them, except to find that perfect photograph of them!
If you would like to be able to identify fish on your dives, take a look at the PADI Fish Identification Specialty.