The lionfish is a priority invasive alien species that was first recorded on the East Coast of the United States in 1992, but since then it has spread down the coast to MesoAmerica. Although lionfish were first recorded in the Guna yala region, Panama, in 2009, it wasn’t until early 2010 that the communities became aware of the danger posed by the species. In that year several local fishermen and divers and three young children were stung by the fish and had to be transferred from Gunayala to Panama city, because of a lack of local medication and knowledge about how to mitigate the pain and injuries.
In order to address the lack of information, the Guna initiated a project to investigate the possible effects of this fish on the natural dynamics of communities and on their culture. It is important for the Guna yala indigenous communities to seek viable ways to manage the lionfish which do not undermine their cultural, environmental and food systems, given their reliance on the sea and coral reef systems.
One of the first objectives was to develop a participatory map of places where the fish had been seen. In addition, interviews were held with community members, lobstermen and fishermen and a review of the literature took place to gather knowledge and information about the lionfish.