The US Geological Survey (USGS) recently updated its database on invasive species after a living specimen of Acanthurus pyroferus, commonly known as chocolate surgeonfish, was found by divers in southeastern Florida late last year. The species is native to the Indo-Pacific—excluding Hawaii—and is primarily a coastal fish. Despite its status as a valuable aquarium fish, the USGS and Florida conservation groups recognize it as an invasive species.
“We don’t know what the effects would have been if the fish had become established and began reproducing,” Lad Akins, director of special projects for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), told The Miami Herald. “But if we wait to find out, then it’s too late.”
The divers captured the strange fish and reported it to REEF, which then shipped the fish off to an aquarium for study and display. Florida is already grappling with the damage caused by invasive lionfish, and Akins said the state does not need another.
“Some people might say, ‘Oh big deal, we took this little fish out of the water,’” Akins told the Herald. “But that’s the way the lionfish got started.”
Indeed, few fish are as unwelcome in Florida waters as lionfish. The small, yet colorful looking fish are eating their way through the food chain and officials are desperate for methods of stopping their expansion. Some far-fetched ideas even include using submarines to harvest them in bulk, or training sharks to include lionfish in their diets. Like the lionfish, the USGS believes that the chocolate surgeonfish came from a personal aquarium before being found near Riviera Beach late last year.