Dead sea creatures creates new mystery in Caribbean

The southern Caribbean coast has another problem, and the source is a mystery.

The problem is dead fish and turtles, and even the experts are stumped until lab results are available.

Dead fish and even a few dead turtles and a dolphin have been turning up on the beaches around Puerto Viejo for three weeks.

The speculation runs to plausible and seemingly implausible theories.

Coincidentally, a number of experts showed up in Punta Uva over the weekend because there was the annual contest involving the invasive lionfish.

The Asociacion de Pescadores Artesanales del Caribe Sur has run the contest for several years. The group includes fishermen from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo and Punta Uva who are seeking to preserve their traditional lifestyle.

They have recognized the lion fish as a major threat because of its hunting tactics and appetite.

Researchers came from a number of institutions. They included the Universidad de Costa Rica in San Pedro and its Centro de Investigaciones en Ciencias del Mar y Limnoloqía, the Universidad Nacional in Heredia, the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía and its Sistema Nacional de Áreas de Conservación and the agricultural ministry’s Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal.

The researchers were confronted with the problem of the dead fish and dead or dying turtles. During the fishing event, two fishermen hurried their boat to shore in order to bring a dying turtle to show experts who were already puzzled by news of other turtles found dead nearby,

The concern was strong enough in the area for sponsors to cancel a Saturday surfing event for fear of what might be in the water. Some of the theories suggest the deaths are the result of agricultural runoff. Another resident has reported a large, dark stain in the ocean.

Ironically, the lionfish do not seem to be affected. Fishing for these critters is done by spear in the clear ocean waters. Many fishermen and even researchers wear gloves to protect against the poisonous lion fish spines.

The ocean researchers use the data on catches to provide information on lion fish populations. That is why they attended the event.

As A.M. Costa Rica reported in July,harvesting by humans is considered the best way to reduce the lion fish population. The article quoted researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The North Carolina team surveyed 71 reefs, in three different regions of the Caribbean, over three years. Their results indicate there is no relationship between the density of lionfish and that of native predators, suggesting that interactions with native predators do not influence the number of lionfish in those areas, the study said.

The spines seem to be an effective defense against larger predators. However, the lionfish makes a tasty meal for humans, as researchers, also in North Caroline, have concluded.

The lionfish is a beautify creature, and the invasive species in the Atlantic may have come from aquariums. There are 10 species of the fish, and two, including Pterois volitans, are in the Atlantic.

Invasive lionfish were first reported off Florida’s Atlantic coast in the mid-1980s, but did not become numerous in the region until 2000.  Since then, the lionfish population has rapidly spread north through the Atlantic Ocean and south throughout most of the Caribbean.

The fish use their large fins to herd together mainly smaller fish so they can be eaten.

The Servicio Nacional de Salud Animal is doing tests of dead turtles that were provided its laboratory technicians last week. The ill turtle brought ashore this weekend also is going there.

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