RELIONMED-LIFE - Preventing a LIONfish invasion in the MEDiterranean through early response and targeted REmoval

LIFE16 NAT/CY/000832

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Contact details:

Contact person: Yianna Samuel-Rhoads
Email: rhoads.yianna@ucy.ac.cy

Project description:


The Mediterranean Sea is a ‘hot spot’ of marine alien invasive species. One recent invader, the lionfish (Pterois miles), of Indo-Pacific origin, can severely impact the ecosystem as it, firstly, predates on small native fish and invertebrate species and, secondly, as a result competes with native fish. In the western Atlantic, the lionfish has been recognised as one of the most ecologically harmful marine fish invaders to date. Evidence from the coasts of Cyprus indicates that the lionfish is about to invade the Mediterranean. The lionfish is increasingly abundant around Cyprus, especially at the eastern side of the island inside or near two Natura 2000 network sites. In 2016, up to 11 lionfish were reported in a single dive at Cavo Greco and juveniles were observed at Nisia. The invasive species is entering the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal and other specific pathways. Cyprus, located near the entry point, is the first EU state that will face the negative impacts of the lionfish invasion.


The RELIONMED-LIFE project aims to make Cyprus the ‘first line of defence’ against the invasion of the lionfish in the Mediterranean. Its specific objectives are to:

  • Develop the necessary capacity and mechanisms in Cyprus so the country can act promptly and effectively against the lionfish invasion, and other invasive species from the Red Sea;
  • Demonstrate the effectiveness of a range of lionfish invasion prevention measures, such as the development and implementation of an early surveillance and detection system and a removal response system; and
  • Build capacity and knowledge which can be transferred and replicated by other countries of the Mediterranean, so they can prevent lionfish establishing in their waters.
  • Moreover, the project aims to:

  • Assess the risks associated with the lionfish and inform stakeholders of these;
  • Demonstrate the effectiveness of ‘removal action teams’ in coordinated and opportunistic removals of lionfish around Cyprus;
  • Demonstrate coordinated removals in priority areas such as near/within the Natura 2000 sites, Cape Greko and Nisia, and nearby artificial reefs in marine protected areas (MPAs) where lionfish aggregate;
  • Explore potential small local market niches that would make future removals economically sustainable; and
  • Transfer cost-efficient practices, and train key stakeholders in neighboring countries.
  • The project will try to establish a coordinated response to tackle the cross-border issue of invasive alien species. Cross-border responses are currently an EU policy priority, as reflected in Regulation No 1143/2014 on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species. Moreover, the project will contribute to the implementation of Target 5 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy and meet the protection levels set out in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

    Expected results:

  • More than 300 lionfish collected during the project via coordinated removal competitions and surveillance system-guided expeditions. Moreover, at least another 100 lionfish collected by stakeholders outside Cyprus;
  • Increased awareness about the lionfish invasion among key stakeholders in Cyprus, such as professional divers. It is anticipated that by the end of the project most active divers (at least 100) and their networks will help with surveillance and removal, while more than 300 other stakeholders (e.g. fishermen, NGOs, divers) will become aware of the lionfish issue;
  • More than 300 lionfish collected during the project via coordinated removal competitions and surveillance system-guided expeditions. Moreover, at least another 100 lionfish collected by stakeholders outside Cyprus motivated by the project;
  • Lionfish in all other productive coastal ecosystems of Cyprus will be targeted by over 50 motivated and informed fishermen; and
  • Assuming that from the 400 lionfish removed, 50 female fish were going to produce two million eggs in that year each, with a 0.3% survival rate, then around 300 000 less lionfish would survive the next year. If we assume an average lionfish weight of 150 g, on a diet 5% of body weight/day, then more than 1 tonne of biomass of fish and crustacean species would be saved to support local food chains.



Environmental issues addressed:


Biodiversity issues - Invasive species


marine ecosystem‚  risk assessment‚  preventive measure

Target EU Legislation

  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • COM(2011) 244 final “Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 ...
  • Regulation 1143/2014 - Prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien ...

Natura 2000 sites




Coordinator University of Cyprus
Type of organisation University
Description The University of Cyprus (UCY) was founded in 1989. This project involves a collaboration between three departments: the biodiversity & ecology lab of the Department of Biological Sciences, which focuses on promoting research and education on several aspects of biodiversity and ecology in the eastern Mediterranean region; the Department of Computer Science; and the Oceanography Centre (OC-UCY), which is a research unit in the School of Sciences that plays a key role in marine research for the Eastern Mediterranean Levantine Basin.
Partners Department of Fisheries and Marine Research, Cyprus University of Plymouth, United Kingdom ENALIA PHYSIS ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH CENTRE, Cyprus Marine & Environmental Research (MER) Lab Ltd, Cyprus


Project reference LIFE16 NAT/CY/000832
Duration 01-SEP-2017 to 01-SEP -2021
Total budget 1,676,077.00 €
EU contribution 1,000,849.00 €
Project location


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