Words and Photography by Brandon Cole
As a newbie, I got really excited seeing lionfish. Bold attitude and striking markings made it one cool fish. I’d bang on my tank and wildly gesticulate to attract other divers. Some buddies shared my enthusiasm. Others gave me withering glares before turning to look for sharks.
Not much has changed in thirty years. While on a recent dive at Thomas Reef in the Straits of Tiran in Egypt’s Red Sea, I spied this devil firefish in a crevice choked with fiery soft corals. Also known as the common lionfish (or Pterios miles for my fellow fish geek peeps, which in Greco-Roman speak perfectly translates into “winged soldier”), this magnificent creature was imperiously parading about, venomous spines brandished. But far from feeling threatened—I wasn’t planning to stuff it down my wetsuit, mind you—I was, once again, captivated.
Today, divers’ dialog often focuses on killing lionfish, the evil invader of the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Florida. Pterois miles from the Indian Ocean along with the Pacific’s very similar P. volitans have gained finholds in foreign Atlantic waters without natural lionfish predators. Their high fecundity and voracious appetite for other fish are causing big problems for local species. Consequently, culling the invasive lionfish is widely supported.
The beauty posing in front of me now need not fear. It belongs on this resplendent Red Sea reef. I shoot away—with my camera—happy and thankful for this encounter.
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