By; Alfredo Montañez Acuña (CESAM)
Nowadays, it’s relatively easy to fall in an ethical deliberation concerning invasive species, which are mainly triggered by non-ethical and recklessly taken decisions by members of this capitalist society. An ethical deliberation that leaves conscientious citizens in the merge of cataloguing and classifying between an ecological successful event or an patrimonial invasive enemy. Since the start of animal life and population interactions, there has always prevailed, like it was once established by the great Charles Darwin, the survival of the fittest, which possesses the characteristics to be the most adapted and successful reproductive organism in the environment or system. Furthermore, from these interspecific interactions, caused either by biotic, abiotic or antropogenic reasons, emerges invasive species. These are define as non-native organisms (specie, sub-specie or any taxon) to an ecosystem or habitat out of their natural distribution range capable of establishing and overcoming natural barriers, that causes a significant damage to humans and, especially, native organisms.
The introduction of these species to new ecosystems affects communities once they integrate to their food chain and incorporate to the “native” interspecific interactions as predators, competitors, parasites or pathogens. In other words, invasive species become the “enemy of the town” around the block, having a powerful potential of reducing global biodiversity and even causing other species’ extinction. Once these plagues begin to increase and disperse, issues concerning ecological, economical, and even social impacts emerge and ultimately affect our capitalist society. At this late point is when we decide to take action towards the relatively “recent” problem. This classical apex when the line where it eventually affects us economically is crossed. Nevertheless, the ethical point of view is tended to be left aside, until us as college students, curious and full of intrinsic values, in scientific development, begin to demand an ethical attitude that analyses moreover our personal and individual issues that affects our future and progress, and scrutinize the specie point of view based on biocentrism. At this point, it’s relatively easy to fall in a certain ethical deliberation towards the innocent specie.
Twelve years ago, from the indo-pacific ocean has arrived the most recent enemy of the Caribbean and Atlantic with versatile osmoregulation and rapid establishment abilities: Pterois volitans, alias, the lionfish. The introduction or origin of this bioinvasion is still topic of investigation; nevertheless, it is believed that aquarist commerce trade has the blame, releasing recklessly a pair of lionfish into the Atlantic. Even though it could have also been due to biotic reasons, like hurricane Andrew theory, or a fault due to lack of ethic, the “once-rare” lionfish arrived to stay as it already adapted to the Atlatnic Ocean and distributed through our Caribbean rapidly starting by Bahamas. Since 2004, we have been ignoring warnings from our Bahamian neighbours concerning the Pterois volitans, the new silencing threat of the Caribbean. Causing “last-minute panic”, fearing for the economical and ecological impact that has provoked already in the Bahamas, groups with diverse visions emerged for research and the development of management strategies concerning this issue, considered one of the fifteen top emergent conflicts of conservation worldwide. Since 2008, lionfish has been establishing around coastal waters of Puerto Rico and is now, four years later, when research, strategies, and educational campaign are in their peak. Scientific ecological data has been analysed in order to create mitigation strategies for the socio-economical impact the lionfish has already started to create. Since its arrival to Vieques, it has feed on essential piscivores for the reef dynamics and reduced fish recruitment, specially endemic and high value species that are part of our fishing industry. Overpassing evolution laws of Darwin, the lionfish has reproduced exponentially, surviving in the most diverse habitats, having only low temperatures as the only limiting factors. Furthermore, P. volitans does not have, until the moment, a natural predator in the Caribbean, producing a relatively low mortality rate. The economical impact was realized when it affected and influence the fishing industry, and it was upgraded by the social impact against human health. Its venom, a still unknown neurotoxin that with a simple contact with its dorsal spines, leaves anyone in pain and threats against human health without any sense of guilt. Nevertheless, its danger and economical impact has totally overshadowed its ecological impact, and furthermore, its ethical deliberation involved concerning its specie.
Between the innovative strategies of mitigation, it was proposed the total eradication of the specie, biocentric idea that could be analysed as an impossible and non-ethical strategy. In the other hand, it has also be considered its consumption and marketing, sceptical and doubtful, but efficient strategy for mitigation of the economical impact. Could this second strategy be considered as an ethical justification for the specie eradication? Or should we extend our moral values to the innocent “enemy of the society”, judged without any kind of juridical standing. If we ask this to our Bahamian neighbours, they would analyse the issue in a totally biocentric way, taking in consideration their biodiversity loss in the last few years. They are tired of this plague in every possible habitat (mangroves, canals, reefs, etc) and not even close in creating some sort of “moral extension” towards the lionfish. So, do we as puertoricans have some sort of ethical responsibility towards lionfishes? Ironic the fact that we are asking ourselves this question about this specie, that for its time of fame, was considered the most exotic, rare and solicited fish in the aquarium industry…
In this ethical deliberation concerning lionfish management, we as ethical, sensible and thinking human beings, with survival necessities like any other animal in earth, should analyze this situation with unbiased and critical judgement. Ethically scrutinizing over the possible economical, social, and ecological impacts, finally we could take our own decisions and opinions in this ethical deliberation. Personally, I had chosen as north, the biocentrism, taking in consideration the Caribbean fish biodiversity affected by the lionfish. As an undergraduate student, I had decided to study the specie without any moral extent to it, but to the Caribbean biodiversity, and cataloguing the lionfish invasion as a patrimonial threat because of its positive feedback. Nevertheless, always considering nature as a moral subject, including lionfish. Maybe it could be understand as a contradiction, but it is the end of my ethical deliberation…
Photos & Videos by Alfredo Montañez Acuña