Citizen Science in Belize – Update – If You Can’t Beat’em, Wear’em

Lionfish spine earrings crafted by Palovi Baezar, Punta Gorda, Belize. Credit: Polly Alford, ReefCI

In earlier posts about my volunteer experience in Belize with ReefCI, I talked about the lionfish invasion that is threatening coral reef and other marine ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Southern Atlantic Seaboard of the United States, and noted that, at least for the foreseeable future, human intervention, particularly the establishment of a commercial fishery for the species, appears to be the only solution to keep the invasion under control.

I mentioned the idea of lionfish jewelry as a possible way of increasing the economic return to fisherfolk who may otherwise be reluctant to go after lionfish given the difficulty of catching them (the fish must be harvested by spearing or hand netting rather than through traditional methods such as lines or nets). I’ve been pleased to learn that at least one artisan in Belize has picked up on the idea, using some of the lionfish spines that I collected while I was there. She has already crafted some beautiful earrings (see photo above) and is working on other jewelry items as well as decorative mirrors. Elsewhere, jewelry crafted from lionfish tails and fins is being sold online, and through a retail outlet in Curaçao. 

Lionfish tail jewelry on display in Westpunt, Curaçao. Courtesy: World Lionfish Hunters Association

Together with ReefCI, I’m exploring the possibility of organizing a workshop for other artisans in Belize. My thought is to combine training on jewelry craftsmanship with some community education regarding the lionfish problem. Artisans could be provided with a toolkit that would include an initial supply of spines, training, and some simple marketing materials such as a poster and flyers that explain the nature of the lionfish invasion and the threat that it poses to local fisheries and livelihoods. This would have the dual benefits of raising awareness about the problem and helping the artisans to pitch the jewelry to demographics (e.g dive tourists) who are interested in marine conservation. Another possible outlet for sales would be gift shops in aquariums and zoos, which could use this as an opportunity for education/awareness raising about the lionfish invasion, displaying the jewelry and other decorative items along with a poster explaining the threat that the invasion poses to marine ecosystems. Who knows, maybe even with a slogan like “Wear Lionfish – Save our Reefs!”

I realize that sales through aquariums and other similar channels pre-supposes a reliable source of supply, but I am confident that this can be developed (ideally using artisans from communities that are most impacted by the invasion) if sufficient demand is identified.
Speaking of demand, I am contacting online shops that currently sell porcupine quill jewelry to see whether they would have an interest in making and/or selling lionfish spine jewelry. I want to try to get an idea of what they would be willing to pay for spines. I plan to use a dozen spines as the unit of measure. My rationale for this is that I want to make it very easy for fisherfolk to understand the additional return that they could get per fish by selling spines as well as meat (each lionfish has 13 dorsal spines, so the unit of a dozen is a good ‘per fish’ equivalent).

I’m hopeful that in the not too distant future you’ll be able to help beat the lionfish invasion not only by eating them, but also by wearing them!  Watch this space for further updates.

24 thoughts on “Citizen Science in Belize – Update – If You Can’t Beat’em, Wear’em

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  5. Hiya!
    I have a shop and sell quills and if the price is better than quills, helps the reefs, etc. I want in! If the price is better than quills lot of folks could join.
    Also, they could have several different uses…

    Hum… are they bone like? Can they be drilled not just like that but “along”? Can make beads…
    Can be a fun different skewer decoration for tourist and sea food places.
    Can be offered as a supply for beach oriented weddings -shells and all that is already being sold!!!-
    How strong are they? How much fire resistant? If they are resistant to a normal amount of fire, let’s say BBQ, they can be really skewers organic natural option to avoid deforestation.
    I guess the first need is to know the “material” is and after do check for potential uses that can help also the environment in wood saving, less metal, etc. and not just the reef.
    Has the skin itself any special characteristic? Like… Hard, piney, soft, pliable, whatever it can be tempting to work with once cured, etc.?
    What else they have? For jewelry purposes, once cleaned fish vertebrae just appears o come from Africa and are darn expensive. Why not offer them as a eco protective option?

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  7. Awesome! Being an artist myself, I always encourage ways to utilize art as a means of communication and spreading awareness! Have you heard of “ARTCORPS”? They are an organization of artist volunteers who do just that. I mention it because you may like to team up with them for a project in Belize. I would love to be a part of that project, as well!

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