Two women, diving beneath Palm Beach County’s Blue Heron Bridge, saw something that didn’t belong in Florida’s waters: the invasive surgeonfish.
Deb Devers and Lureen Ferretti were diving under Palm Beach County’s Blue Heron Bridge when they saw an unusual species swimming in the water. The two divers reported the sighting to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), a non-profit organization based in Key Largo, which controls exotic fish species.
REEF director of special projects Lad Akins, told reporters, “They weren’t sure what it was, but they knew it was something that doesn’t belong here,” of the fish later determined to be the invasive surgeonfish.
Also known as the chocolate surgeonfish, the species is native to Indo-Pacific waters and had never been seen before in Florida.
Devers kept track of the surgeonfish after the first sighting and with the help of Akins and REEF, the fish was captured with nets. Then the surgeonfish was shipped to Ripley’s Aquarium in Canada, where it will be displayed in an exhibit illustrating the damaging effects of invasive species.
Akins applauded Devers and Ferretti for their pro-active thinking, telling reporters, “We don’t know what the effects would have been if the fish had become established and began reproducing. But if we wait to find out, then it’s too late.”
Releasing non-native species, like the surgeonfish, into Florida’s waters is harmful and illegal. Owners are urged to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to help them find a home for their unwanted exotic fish.
Akins underlined the importance of removing even just one non-native fish;
Some people might say, ‘Oh big deal, we took this little fish out of the water. But that’s the way the lionfish got started. If only we could have taken the first few lionfish out of the water in the first place. We’re relying on divers, snorkelers and fishermen to be our eyes and ears on the water. It’s a perfect example of how early detection and rapid removal can be successful in stemming an invasion.
This surgeon fish removal in the third such incident REEF has had to deal with in the past 13 years. In 2002 the organization took four large Indo-Pacific batfish out of Molasses Reef, and in 2009 they removed a whitetail dascyllus damselfish found near Blue Heron Bridge.
If you spot an unusual fish in Florida’s waters contact REEF and report the sighting.