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August 26, 2016

Lionfish-zapping robot offers solution to invasive species

Essential question

Why are invasive species dangerous to the environment?

Invasive lionfish have devastating effects on native species and ecosystems in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, but killer-robot technology offers a new way to rebuild balance.

Originally native to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, experts believe exotic pet owners released lionfish into public waters around Florida beaches in the 1980s. Without any natural predators, the lionfish population grew rapidly with dire environmental results. Their insatiable appetites decimate fish integral to maintaining reef health in the region.

Curbing the species’ growth has become a focus in places like Bermuda.

A company called Robots in Service of the Environment, or RISE, recruited a team of researchers and engineers to design a robot to kill lionfish without harming other fish nearby.  It’s called “electro-fishing technique,” according to RISE’s Geoffrey Gardner.

“If you put the lionfish between two electrodes and apply an electric current, that current kills the lionfish or stuns the lionfish,” Gardner said.

While this may offer hope for the species at risk due to lionfish, the strategy is controversial because it involves killing living creatures.

James Morris of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration argues that killing lionfish is necessary and the focus should be on the dangers of introducing new animals to different environments.

“If we’re looking for an ethical question, it’s the one behind introducing non-native species and the impacts that it has on the region and the biodiversity of these very important places,” he said.

Key terms

invasive species — a plant, fungus or animal species that is not native to a specific location; has a tendency to spread to a degree believed to cause damage to the environment or human health

ecosystem — a community of organisms and their physical environment

biodiversity — the existence of many various kinds of plants and animals in an environment

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. What is oceanography?
  2. What is an invasive species?
  3. Besides the lionfish, do you know other examples of invasive species?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. Why is important to know about “ocean health?”
  2. How has technology helped fight environmental scientists battle invasive species, like the lionfish?
  3. Do you think killing lionfish is ethical? Why or why not?
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