The lionfish, a tropical creature with poisonous barbs and a painful sting that can kill humans in rare cases, may be spreading in the Mediterranean, a conservation group warned Monday.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (UICN) said the fish had been spotted in waters around Turkey and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean.
"That shows that the fish is spreading, and that's a cause for concern," Maria del Mar Otero of the UICN told AFP.
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The highly invasive, predatory fish, also known as the Devil Firefish, is a native of the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.
Stings from its barbs are rarely fatal to humans, but can cause extreme pain, vomiting and respiratory paralysis.
Environmentalists fear that the fish's arrival in the eastern Mediterranean could decimate stocks of other fish, with knock-on effects on the rest of the marine environment.
Dr Carlos Jimenez, a marine biologist at the Cyprus Institute, said the species "could have a heavy negative impact on the ecosystems as well as on local economies".
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Despite their conspicuous colours and slow movements, even sharks won't go near lionfish, giving them free rein to feed and wipe out other species that normally keep algae in check.
This can attract the arrival of new invasive species because of the weakening of the local fauna and flora, said Jimenez.
The voracious fish caused environmental havoc after it was introduced to the Caribbean.
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