State/National/WorldNews Briefs

Discovery of invasive fish means team springs to action

KEY LARGO, Florida (AP) ― An invasive Pacific Ocean fish pulled off a Broward County artificial reef by a Key Largo dive team has a new life as a featured exhibit at a new Miami science museum.

The Miami Herald reported a rapid response team plucked the fish, known as an onespot rabbitfish, out of the water.

In October, REEF’s rapid-response team received a report about the nonnative fish swimming at a nearshore artificial reef about 12 to 15 feet deep off Dania Beach.

“Every once in a while, we get something off the wall,” said Emily Stokes, an invasive-species specialist with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) based in Key Largo.

Broward County resident and longtime REEF volunteer Jenny Wuenschel sent along photos confirming the presence of an onespot rabbitfish, native to the Pacific. REEF and the U.S. Geological Survey planned a response.

“The goal of the rapid-response unit is to try to prevent another invasive species from taking hold, like the lionfish invasion,” Stokes said. “We didn’t have that for the lionfish, and now it’s pretty much out of control. Now we know the importance of early detection.”

While not a fish-eating species like the lionfish, the rabbitfish does have some venomous spines and could affect native species by depriving resident herbivores of aquatic food sources.

The response team increased its efforts in 2007 due to the lionfish threat.

REEF Director of Special Projects Lad Akins, Stokes and two REEF interns found the rabbitfish in about 15 minutes, but needed most of an hour to bag it among the maze of underwater structures. The fish measures between 6 and 7 inches long.

The rabbitfish was captured alive and delivered to staff at the Gulf Stream Aquarium at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, a new Miami facility expected to open within a few months. The onespot rabbitfish will serve as an example of invasive species that could upset the South Florida marine ecosystem.

REEF staff has worked on invasive-fish issues for more than 20 years.

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