Startup hunts down invasive lionfish to save the ecosystem
Inversa, a startup that processes lionfish into fish leather, was recognized on Wednesday during World Ocean Day as one of the innovative ocean protection entities. The brand was among the finalists for the Global Ocean Resilience Innovation Challenge, which recognizes solutions that cater to the marine ecosystem.
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While many would think Inversa’s actions of turning lionfish into leather would be against the ecosystem, the reverse is true. The lionfish is an invasive species that has caused havoc in the Atlantic and Mediterranean waters. In recent years, the species has boomed on the Atlantic coast, coming at the expense of local fish species.
The lionfish is native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Outside its native range, the fish does not have natural predators. As a result, it thrives and drives smaller fishes out of their range. In the Atlantic and Mediterranean where the lionfish have invaded, they consume up to 79% of young marine life within five weeks when they invade a coral reef system.
However, with the Inversa initiative, there is hope for marine life again. Scuba divers are now hunting the lionfish and selling its skin to the fashion industry to save marine life.
“We know there are solutions for some of the problems — such as coral-friendly sunscreens to help protect the reefs — but nobody’s been able to do anything about the lionfish,” Aarav Chavda, CEO of Inversa, told The Guardian.
Chavda and childhood friend Roland Salatino came together to set up the startup in Florida. The company makes leather by processing lionfish hide. They sell the final skin to fashion companies who use them to make products such as wallets, handbags, and belts. Although fish skin is thin, it has a fiber structure that runs crossways, making it stronger than other types of skin. As a result, the skin is used in making high-end products in the fashion world.
“A lot of geographies, especially the lower-income Caribbean area, have no market at all [for lionfish] – and so this fish is not only destroying the coral reefs, which sustain these fishing cooperatives’ livelihoods, but they also can’t do anything about it,” Chavda said.