Bait and See

White Spotted Octopus (Octopus macropus) trying to remove the bait bag seen at ~ 40 m Eastern Blue Cut. Image by Tim Noyes

Tim Noyes, a coral reef research specialist at BIOS, knew he wanted to take action fighting the scourge of lionfish invading Bermuda’s coral reefs.  He was helping out with a short documentary to raise awareness about these voracious predators when he came up against a vital question that captured his interest as a scientist: what, exactly, were the lionfish eating in Bermuda?

While the invasive lionfish that have proliferated on shallow reefs in the Western Atlantic and Caribbean are known to consume over fifty species of economically and ecologically important fish, Bermuda’s lionfish problem goes deeper: an elite group of technical divers found lionfish carpeting reefs two hundred feet below the surface.  These troubling observations led to fears that lionfish were gorging themselves on “everything” living on Bermuda’s deep reefs.  But nobody knew exactly what that “everything” was – what species lived there, and were all of them being eaten? Did juvenile fish get disproportionately devoured? And perhaps most importantly, what might this mean for coral reef health and fishing in Bermuda?

To gather basic information about the communities of fish forced to share their habitat with lionfish, Noyes borrowed a method that is commonly used in Australian coral reef surveys and modified it for the deeper waters of Bermuda.  By mounting a GoPro camera in tubular steel housing and positioning the lens so it faces a bait bag stuffed with pilchards, Noyes candidly captures the deep reef community as they aggregate around the bait.

Galapagos shark (Carcharhinus galapagensis, Snodgrass and Heller, 1905) ~ 55 m Challenger Bank. Image by Tim Noyes