invasive species

Florida wildlife officials say lionfish harvesters are crucial to getting rid of the invasive species. But, lionfish removal divers are urged to safely remove the fish without causing any natural habitat damage.

  Saturday is "Lionfish Awareness and Removal Day" in Florida. Lionfish are an invasive species off Florida's coasts. People in southwest Florida are studying the fish's impact and others are helping to keep the invasive species' population under control. 

This Saturday is not only Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day, it’s also the kick off for Florida’s Lionfish Challenge—an incentive program to encourage people to remove the nonnative species. State wildlife officials are doing a bit of a revamp this year.

Florida is a prime breeding ground for invasive species that can threaten the state’s ecology and economy. For every lionfish or Burmese python that’s captured, thousands remain. And the sheer scope of the problem is pushing some lawmakers to ask how much of a difference state funding actually makes.

Florida’s invasive species problem can be daunting, with real implications for the state’s ecology and economy. The breadth of the issue is spurring some lawmakers to ask if state funding makes a difference.

When a diver who was also a volunteer for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation saw a fish that looked out of place in the waters off Dania Beach in October, she sent a photo to REEF, a marine conservation nonprofit based in Key Largo.

South Florida is a hotspot for invasive species, and the exotic plants, reptiles, amphibians, and fish that take root in the subtropical region of Florida can cause harm to the ecology, economy, and even human health.

From invasive Burmese pythons to Argentine black and white tegus, from Clown Knifefish in the water to the climbing, coiling kudzu plants, Florida’s native plants and animals face displacement by nonnative species.

Burmese pythons, lionfish, african land snails -- these are just a few of the invasive species considered threats to Florida ecosystems. And the fact that you really can't snuggle with serpent, a venomous fish or a disease-carrying mollusk perhaps makes them easier to eradicate.

But what does Florida do about a potential invader that's a little on the cute side?

J Pat Carter / AP

MIAMI — A public hunt for Burmese pythons in Florida’s Everglades won’t be repeated next year, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman said Monday. 

Instead, the state is beefing up established programs that train licensed hunters and people who regularly work in areas known to contain pythons to kill or report exotic snakes.

“Certainly our work is not done with pythons,” said wildlife commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson.

Courtesy of Michelle Rojas

In addition to the invasive Burmese pythons, the North African python is also making its presence known in South Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reports. And they’re not just staying in the swamp. Last month, a 10-foot-long rock python strangled a family’s Siberian husky; the mother of the 12-year-old and 15-year-old who saw it happen says her children are traumatized.

Several Nile crocodiles, the kind that will eat humans, have been seen recently in South Florida. Given the danger, federal wildlife officials have granted Florida's shoot-to-kill request.