Invasive Species

Lionfish are an invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean. Lionfish can alter species composition and the abundance and diversity of native marine species. Credit: Lauren Heesemann/MNMS, NOAA

Why is it a concern?

Lionfish, even more than many other invasive species, can alter species composition, abundance and diversity of native marine species, interfering with the ecosystem's function.  Once established, lionfish have been found difficult to control, particularly in water below scuba diving depths.  The presence of the Gulf Stream and the Monitor wreck’s location near the northern boundary of tropical reef fish habitat makes the sanctuary very attractive for a variety of marine life.  Temperate and sub-tropical fish species, such as the greater amberjack, black seabass, bank seabass, scup and grouper, represent the most abundant species that seasonally visit the sanctuary’s waters.  Additionally, the wreck acts as an artificial reef and provides habitat for numerous fish and invertebrates, putting them at risk for lionfish predation.

One Indo-Pacific lionfish was observed in the sanctuary in the summer of 2007.  As with other locations in the western Atlantic affected by this species, there is the potential for significant effects on native fish and invertebrates if lionfish populations continue to increase, although it is unlikely that this would affect the quality of archaeological resources in the sanctuary.


Overview of Research

The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary is currently seeking research partnerships to help meet science needs connected to this topic. Please contact the Research Coordinator if you are interested in pursuing research on this issue.

Science Needs and Questions

There is a need to expand the sanctuary’s biological monitoring program to track lionfish status and trends, as well as monitor other potential non-indigenous species.

  • What invasive species represent the biggest threat to MNMS?
  • What impacts are invasive species having on the sanctuary resources?
  • From where are invasive species coming into MNMS?
  • What effective controls of these marine invasive species are currently available?
  • Are the invasive species already established spreading, and if so, at what rate?
  • How is the lionfish population changing over time in the sanctuary?

Education and Outreach Material

What is an invasive species?


Byrnes, J. E., P.L. Reynolds and J.L. Stachowicz. 2007. Invasions and extinctions reshape coastal marine food webs. PLoS ONE 2(3): e295. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000295.

Lockwood, J.L., M.F. Hoopes, M.P. Marchetti. 2007. Invasion Ecology. Blackwell Publishing, Malden, MA.

Sax, D.F., J.J. Stachowicz, S.D. Gaines. 2005. Species invasions: Insight into ecology, evolution, and biogeography. Sinauer Associates, Inc. Sunderland, MA.