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Latest weapon against lionfish invasion? Meet the Roomba of the sea

How to counter invasive species, a common, and often intractable, problem? One entrepreneur’s clever approach offers lessons in finding solutions in the unlikeliest of places.

If you can’t beat them, eat them. That is the common wisdom of many scientists, conservationists, and fishermen who dream of ridding the western Atlantic of invasive lionfish, a stunning aquarium fish that, when introduced in the wild, dominates and destroys reef ecosystems. However, catching lionfish has never been simple; they are not easily targeted by line or net fishing. Now, a surprising new invention may bring lionfish hunting to the masses and help clear the seas of this invader: a submersible robot.

With its striking stripes, diaphanous fins, and mane of colorful but poisonous spines, the exotic Indo-Pacific lionfish makes for a popular aquarium fish. But when released into the Atlantic in the 1980s (presumably by aquarium aficionados who tired of the voracious pet), the fish thrived and became a menace to native fish species and the reefs they rely upon. Lionfish populations first exploded off Florida’s coast; now, lionfish have expanded their range throughout the Bahamas and the Caribbean all the way down to South America.

“A number of characteristics make the lionfish the perfect invader,” says Stephen Gittings, a coral reef ecologist and NOAA’s chief scientist for the National Marine Sanctuary System.

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