Engineers create maritime terminator to hunt down 'Darwin's Nightmare'

The lionfish, with no predators and a voracious appetite, is decimating habitats all across the Atlantic coast

Lionfish, Darwin's Nightmare


Schools of lionfish, known to marine biologists as ‘Darwin’s Nightmare’ for their abilities to adapt to seemingly any threat in their environment and thrive, have been conquering the Atlantic Ocean for almost 30 years – and not without a cost. With no natural predators to hunt them down and with their considerable appetites, the lionfish pose a serious threat to destroying the natural balance of their ecosystem. So some scientists have created a robot to hunt them down and kill them.

Lionfish got their nickname because they have proven themselves to be very resistant and hardy to all kinds of environments. Capable of eating a large number of things, they reproduce in great numbers all year long, and can live in fresh or salt water, cold or warm. They also have evolved with a coat of threatening spikes that ward off any potential predators from taking a bite out of them.

Originally from the Indo-Pacific region, the exotic looking fish were a hit with aquarium owners in the 1980s, some of whom are suspected of having dumped adult lionfish into rivers or the sea in the 1980s. The fish thrived, reproducing and invading new habitats, often with devastating ecological outcomes.

In the Bahamas, Gizmodo reports, lionfish are credited with hunting down and eating parrotfish and other small species whose absence saw algae blooming and destroying the local coral reef networks.

As such, one of the only recommendations made by marine biologists is for human beings to become the main predator of the lionfish. While they are venomous, they are not poisonous, meaning that they are safe to consume when cooked. The meat is white, flaky, and described as slightly sweet, and is sold in supermarkets and restaurants all along with US Atlantic coastline.

A 3D rendering of how one of the lionfish terminators will look upon completion [Ed Williams/Robo Nautica]

Capturing them is difficult, however, as their preferred home is nestled among the small spaces in coral reefs, outside the reach of fishing nets. They are also not easily caught by baited hooks, making hand spearing the only viable option, albeit slow and time-consuming.

Instead, an engineering company named RISE is now set to trial two different robotic harvesters to see if they can make a dent in the lionfish’s numbers. One, set to be put into action this month, involves a pressure-powered spear gun, while the other hopes to stun the docile fish to death with two electrodes. Both terminators come with inbuilt cameras so pilots can remotely steer them on their mission. But the company says its ultimate goal is to develop an autonomous device that can patrol the seas and do the job by itself.

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