Divers all over South Florida were probably drooling last night while watching the huge lionfish that appeared in the 60 Minutes broadcast about Cuba's Jardines de la Reina coral reef off that island's southern shore. The reason is that the state of Florida has declared open season on the invasive lionfish, introduced from Asia, which is known to devastate marine life on coral reefs. Fortunately lionfish flesh is quite tasty and its population has been kept in check in Florida by hungry divers with spearguns.
Not so in Cuba. As you can see in the video at the 15 second mark and later in their full broadcast, the lionfish at the Jardines de la Reina are both quite large and numerous. Why? It seems that Anderson Cooper shied away from asking the question that would have a politically very uncomfortable answer.
So just how destructive are the invasive lionfish to coral reef ecosystems? The explanation is provided in this Science Daily article:
The invasion of predatory lionfish in the Caribbean region poses yet another major threat there to coral reef ecosystems -- a new study has found that within a short period after the entry of lionfish into an area, the survival of other reef fishes is slashed by about 80 percent.
Aside from the rapid and immediate mortality of marine life, the loss of herbivorous fish also sets the stage for seaweeds to potentially overwhelm the coral reefs and disrupt the delicate ecological balance in which they exist, according to scientists from Oregon State University.
The solution for keeping the lionfish population in check is to hunt them down and eat them:
The federal government has thrown its weight behind plans to field a novel weapon – the American appetite – in a bid to halt the spread of the voracious and invasive lionfish.
..."The only way to really help the reefs is to actually get people interested in fishing for lionfish," says Renata Lana, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which just launched an "Eat Lionfish" campaign. "In fact they are quite delicious fish."
Unfortunately for the Jardines de la Reina coral reef ecosystem, this option is not available...because of the feudal Castro brothers communist regime. The problem is that in order to hunt the lionfish at the Jardines de la Reina you have to get there by boat....something not permitted on the island prison because a large portion of the people allowed to have boats would choose to just leave Cuba altogether. The huge and numerous lionfish seen in the broadcast were mentioned, briefly, by marine biologist David Guggenheim when he was interviewed by visiting host Anderson Cooper:
Guggenheim: The lion fish is a beautiful fish. The problem is it doesn't belong here. It belongs in the Pacific. It's got a voracious appetite and it's eating the local species.
And that was it. Yes, those large lionfish were wiping out the native coral reef species even as Cooper interviewed Guggenheim who gushed about the condition of the coral reef:
Guggenheim: This is really the most incredibly well protected and flourishing reef I've ever seen.
Not for long, David, since those giant lionfish surrounding you and Anderson go unchecked due to repressive policies of the Cuban regime.
The only mention of Castro in the broadcast was a favorable one by Anderson Cooper about how he protected the reef:
In 1996, the government of Fidel Castro, a diver himself, made this area one of the largest marine preserves in the Caribbean. Almost all commercial fishing was banned. Since then, Fabian Pina's research shows the number of fish has increased dramatically.
Including the lionfish which now threatens the rest of the marine life on that reef because they can't be hunted down due to the same Castro regime praised on 60 Minutes.
A final note: Did 60 Minutes edit out of its webcast of the show a scene of Anderson Cooper committing the major diver no-no of TOUCHING the coral? I didn't see it on the webcast but I could have sworn I saw it on the original broadcast which seems to be confirmed by these two comments about the show:
I was most disturbed by seeing Anderson Cooper standing on the coral and touching the coral. This is very harmful and is one of the first things we are told to avoid in SCUBA classes.
...I'm glad that I was not the only one to see this, I have seen new open water students show more respect for the reef.
If that is what happened, this would not be the first time that 60 Minutes selectively edited out an inconvenient section.