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Film Gets Up Close with Strange Invaders

Lioinfish pose a threat to Caribbean marine ecology. (Photo © Paul Cater Deaton)A documentary on "Lionfish, The Beautiful Outlaw," by St. Thomas filmmaker Paul Cater Deaton and photographer Monica Gephart, will premiere at 5:30 p.m. Sunday on WTJX TV, the local public television station.

According to Deaton, "Lionfish" will mostly air on PBS stations in coastal states.

Deaton said he started preproduction on the show about a year ago and began shooting last November. He was not prompted by idle curiosity.

"It’s a subject I feel strongly about," he said. "The documentary makes the case for marine preserves and no-fishing zones. If we had those in place, some of the predators that could keep the lionfish in check would be here in greater numbers."

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The lionfish, an invasive species that has been known to strip reefs clean of native fish, has slowly worked its way from Florida, where it was accidentally released into the wild, through the Bahamas and into the Caribbean, showing up in local waters a little more than two years ago. Biologists and wildlife officials have warned that the lionfish could destroy local reef life in just a few short years. The fish’s venom is also dangerous to humans.

The lionfish, which is originally from the Indian Ocean, has no natural predators in the Caribbean. But that doesn’t mean other fish won’t discover them as a food source, Deaton said.Hunting lionfish off the coast of Belize. (Photo © Paul Cater Deaton)

"Predators are discovering the lionfish," he said, listing sharks, barracuda, snapper, octopus, lobster and frogfish among the species that prey on the aquatic newcomer.

"Octopus and lobsters occupy the same kind of holes in the reefs. Octopus are smart and lobsters are armored, they don’t care about the lionfish’s barbs," Deaton said, adding that he has footage of lobsters cutting apart lionfish with their claws.

Another predator hunting the lionfish is local divers, he said. Divers usually are fastidious about hunting and killing them in local diving areas so other divers, especially tourists, won’t come into contact with them.

Lionfish are not aggressive fish, he added; they raise their poisonous spines in defense. But they don’t scare easily either.

"They’re very arrogant fish," he said.

Deaton re-emphasized that the invasion is serious, though not as dire as many have made it out to be.

"It’s not the end of the world," he said.

"Lionfish" was filmed all over the world, from the Caribbean to the South Pacific, in the waters around St Croix, St. Thomas and Belize.

The documentary was first shown at Chicago’s "Our World – Underwater” film festival and tested well, Deaton said. Based on its reception there, the film was tweaked a little and is now ready for airing.

Following the television premiere Sunday on WTJX, the film will air on select Atlantic and Gulf Coast member stations.

Deaton is an award-winning writer, producer, director and cinematographer who has filmed on six continents over three decades. He is based in the Virgin Islands and Chicago. He as been involved in producing commercials, music videos and documentaries, TV programs and full-length motion pictures.

Photographer Monica Gephart has worked with Deaton for more than two years, from glitzy Las Vegas and the jungles of Belize to Caribbean islands and the Coral Triangle of Southeast Asia. A onetime software developer, photography serves as a cornerstone for the duo’s web presence, and within their numerous documentary productions.

Further information can be obtained by visiting Deaton’s website at www.PaulCaterDeaton.com.

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Lioinfish pose a threat to Caribbean marine ecology. (Photo © Paul Cater Deaton)A documentary on "Lionfish, The Beautiful Outlaw," by St. Thomas filmmaker Paul Cater Deaton and photographer Monica Gephart, will premiere at 5:30 p.m. Sunday on WTJX TV, the local public television station.

According to Deaton, "Lionfish" will mostly air on PBS stations in coastal states.

Deaton said he started preproduction on the show about a year ago and began shooting last November. He was not prompted by idle curiosity.

"It's a subject I feel strongly about," he said. "The documentary makes the case for marine preserves and no-fishing zones. If we had those in place, some of the predators that could keep the lionfish in check would be here in greater numbers."

The lionfish, an invasive species that has been known to strip reefs clean of native fish, has slowly worked its way from Florida, where it was accidentally released into the wild, through the Bahamas and into the Caribbean, showing up in local waters a little more than two years ago. Biologists and wildlife officials have warned that the lionfish could destroy local reef life in just a few short years. The fish's venom is also dangerous to humans.

The lionfish, which is originally from the Indian Ocean, has no natural predators in the Caribbean. But that doesn't mean other fish won't discover them as a food source, Deaton said.Hunting lionfish off the coast of Belize. (Photo © Paul Cater Deaton)

"Predators are discovering the lionfish," he said, listing sharks, barracuda, snapper, octopus, lobster and frogfish among the species that prey on the aquatic newcomer.

"Octopus and lobsters occupy the same kind of holes in the reefs. Octopus are smart and lobsters are armored, they don't care about the lionfish's barbs," Deaton said, adding that he has footage of lobsters cutting apart lionfish with their claws.

Another predator hunting the lionfish is local divers, he said. Divers usually are fastidious about hunting and killing them in local diving areas so other divers, especially tourists, won't come into contact with them.

Lionfish are not aggressive fish, he added; they raise their poisonous spines in defense. But they don't scare easily either.

"They're very arrogant fish," he said.

Deaton re-emphasized that the invasion is serious, though not as dire as many have made it out to be.

"It's not the end of the world," he said.

"Lionfish" was filmed all over the world, from the Caribbean to the South Pacific, in the waters around St Croix, St. Thomas and Belize.

The documentary was first shown at Chicago's "Our World – Underwater” film festival and tested well, Deaton said. Based on its reception there, the film was tweaked a little and is now ready for airing.

Following the television premiere Sunday on WTJX, the film will air on select Atlantic and Gulf Coast member stations.

Deaton is an award-winning writer, producer, director and cinematographer who has filmed on six continents over three decades. He is based in the Virgin Islands and Chicago. He as been involved in producing commercials, music videos and documentaries, TV programs and full-length motion pictures.

Photographer Monica Gephart has worked with Deaton for more than two years, from glitzy Las Vegas and the jungles of Belize to Caribbean islands and the Coral Triangle of Southeast Asia. A onetime software developer, photography serves as a cornerstone for the duo's web presence, and within their numerous documentary productions.

Further information can be obtained by visiting Deaton's website at www.PaulCaterDeaton.com.