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CCMI scientists perform underwater surgery in new lion fish study

A team of researchers from Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) have transformed the world-renowned walls of Little Cayman into a makeshift operating theatre.

Their patients: destructive and invasive lion fish.

The new CCMI study aims to understand lion fish behavior and movement patterns, but before a lion fish can be tracked, it must be tagged. To ramp up the degree of difficulty, the surgical work takes place on scuba at depths ranging from 65 to 110 feet.

The researchers capture the lion fish with nets, make a small incision to the fish’s underside, and insert an acoustic tag into the fish before sewing it back up. A bright blue ID tag is also attached so lion fish cullers will know to spare its life while it’s transmitting data.

“The surgery itself, the tagging practice itself, we’ve got down pat. We’ve got the catching and handling down, it’s just sort of dealing with all the other things around us at that time,” said CCMI Research Scientist Dr. Alli Candelmo. “It’s been interesting.”

Dr. Candelmo told Cayman 27 low light, limited time at depth, and a very curious nurse shark were among the biggest challenges the tagging team has faced.

So far 22 lion fish have been tagged in the study’s first phase.

About the author

Joe Avary

Joe Avary

Joe Avary has been with Cayman 27 since 2014. He brings 20 years in television experience to the job, working hard every day to bring the people of Cayman stories that inform the public and make a difference in the community. Joe hopes his love for the Cayman Islands shines through in his informative and entertaining weather reports. If you have a story idea for Joe or just want to say hello, call him at 324-2141 or send an email to

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