By Sarah Sekula, published in Islands Magazine
You know the loser sign you make with one hand to your forehead? Well, underwater, it kind of means you’re a winner. As in, you’ve spotted a lionfish, a highly attractive creature with red-and-white zebra stripes and billowy fins that stick out like a lion’s mane.
Problem is, it’s not from around these parts. “They eat everything and reproduce like rabbits,” says Bas Noji, our divemaster. He mentions that a single female lays 2 million eggs a year, and that the fish has no enemies here in the Caribbean. Well, except for Bas, and others like him who see this invasive species as a major threat to the marine ecosystem.
Minutes later, we flipper kick our way among Bonaire’s famous soft coral gardens. Hovering above a reef, I spot one the little buggers under a craggy ledge. Enthusiastically, I make the loser sign. Bas aims his spear gun and fires.
Over the next half-hour we spear 10 and keep three.
Topside, Bas carefully removes the lethal spines with a rusty knife. He swiftly rubs away the scales with a piece of dried coral.
“I’ve seen big guys cry after being stung. It feels like being hit with a hammer, hard. Over and over.”
Next, we make our way past sparkling salt mountains, pink-hued waters and lagoons packed with upside down jellyfish. When we arrive at The Beach Hut, our catch is lightly grilled. We promptly scarf it down.
“After my daughter learned to say mama and dada,” Noij says. “Her next word was lionfish. It’s her favorite food.”
I can see why. It is darn delicious.