A venomous species invading the Mediterranean has made its way to Malta, the University’s Conservation Biology Research Group announced yesterday, joining an increasing list of tropical reef species found in Maltese waters.

The announcement comes days after this newspaper reported that the lionfish – a venomous and voracious species which originates in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and which colonised part of the Cypriot coast – could be heading towards Malta.

Now the Research Group has confirmed that the species has arrived in Malta. “Apart from identifying the species morphologically and genetically, our ongoing research also investigates the possible impacts of the different alien species on local fish communities and habitats as part of conservation research,” the group said yesterday.

The lionfish is considered to be a voracious fish eater, and environmentalists who spoke to this newspaper said the impact of having it in our waters would definitely be felt. The species could also pose a danger to swimmers, as its sting can cause excruciating pain and paralysis, cardiac arrests and sometimes even death.

Its sting can cause excruciating pain and paralysis, cardiac arrests and sometimes death

The group collaborates with stakeholders to make ensure conservation measures are understood.

“Alien species may be dangerous if not recognised as such by fishermen or sport fishers who are not familiar with the strange species in these waters.

“Certain species, such as the lionfish, may be dangerous to handle but delicious to eat. Therefore fishermen could use conservation measures to control their numbers – as long as they follow the necessary safety precautions,” the group said.

The toxins of the lionfish are only found in the fish’s spines, and it is a commonly eaten food throughout the Indian and South Pacific Oceans.

Another species – the lowfin chub, an algae-eating fish – has also been added to the list of tropical species now found in the Maltese sea, the group said.

In recent years, there has been a spike in the number of invasive creatures making their way to Maltese territory, a cause for concern for biologists, who said the colonisation by alien species was a threat to indigenous marine life, as it could modify their habitat, as well as introducing new parasites.

At the same time, the new species could compete with native species for resources.

For assistance with detailed identification of species or any further information e-mail Adriana.vella@um.edu.mt or call 9942 9592.

 

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