Distribution of Non-native Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans) and Devil Firefish (Pterois miles) Throughout Georgia’s Coastal Waters

Teemer Barry, United States, Tara Cox, Savannah State University, Savannah, GA, United States and Kimberly Roberson, Mentor, Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, Savannah, GA, United States
Invasive species are non-native organisms that have the potential to disrupt economic or environmental processes. Along the U.S. Atlantic coastline, the continuous breeding cycles and generalist nature of invasive lionfish threaten populations of native benthic and demersal organisms. The purpose of this study was to combine multiple datasets to document the distribution of invasive devil firefish (Pterois miles) and red lionfish (Pterois volitans) throughout Georgia's offshore waters. We combined observations from Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS), data provided by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and interviews from local dive shops. The sightings for both species of lionfish were lower closer to shore but increased with distance from the coastline; the highest number of sightings were close to 100 km offshore. Additionally, the number of lionfish sightings increased with depth, with most approximately deeper than 30 meters. Few sightings in GRNMS were shallower than 18 m, corroborated by local divers who reported few sightings of lionfish in waters shallower than 15 m. Invasive lionfish off the coast of Georgia documented by divers and the USGS were commonly seen offshore in waters deeper than 30m. The greatest number of individual fish seen at any one site (n=7) was in the USGS data and was farther offshore than any other sightings that year. This is the first study to focus on Georgia’s coastal and offshore waters to better understand lionfish distribution. In addition, this study highlights the utility and limitations of combining multiple datasets to understand animal distribution.