Invasive species in Florida are a problem, but potentially a delicious one.
The Sunshine State isn’t unique in having difficulties with invasive species, but it does have quite a few. Hundreds of different invasives, from venomous lionfish to wild boar to pythons and parrots, all brought into the area by human activities, are wreaking havoc with the local biomes.
Boar, or wild hogs, for instance, were probably brought to Florida with the first Spanish invaders in the 1500s. Today, there are around 500,000 wild hogs in Florida, and they breed like rabbits. A healthy hog can have between 20-40 babies a year in 2-3 litters, and while they’re just as likely to eat their own young as they are to eat your outdoor cat (very), plenty survive to adulthood. The Department of Agriculture estimates they do as much as $1.5 billion in property damage a year.
Fortunately, wild-fed pork is always worth taking home. Hunting is regulated, but encouraged.
Lionfish, native to the Indian Ocean and the western reaches of the Pacific – not the Atlantic – are also a problem in Florida. The highly effective predators were first reported in Florida waters in 1985, and their numbers have rapidly increased since then, now reaching as far north as the Carolinas and Bermuda, and south to Panama. A few lionfish can strip acres of reef of slower-moving fish, mostly algae eaters. This leads to uncontrolled algae growth and a paucity of food for native predators such as snapper and grouper. To add to the problem, lionfish reach maturity in a year, as opposed to eight years for snappers and 20-30 for groupers.
In the early 2010s, restaurants put locally caught lionfish on their menus in an effort to help increase demand for their catch. But since then, conservation-minded lionfish derbies have spurred large-sale culling by spearfishing enthusiasts. On Earth Day 2021, 14 spearfishing teams removed nearly 500 lionfish from the reefs of Key Largo.
Human appetites for sport meat likely brought both invasive species to Florida in the first place. It’s only right it should help to remove them.
Photo: A lionfish. Credit: Shutterstock