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Invasive Lionfish Management, Quintana Roo, Mexico – INVERSA Leathers

Invasive Lionfish Management, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Project Lead: INVERSA Leathers
Support: Received mentoring, training and financial support from the second cycle of the Ocean Resilience Innovation Challenge (ORIC), which was financially supported by the UK’s Blue Planet Fund and the Swiss Re Foundation
Location: Mexico
Financial Innovation: Financing fishing cooperatives in Quintana Roo, Mexico, to enable them to catch certified invasive lionfish

Summary 

INVERSA Leathers manufactures the world’s first regenerative leather. It helps solve an environmental crisis and encourages fashion to be more sustainable. Made from the invasive lionfish, which destroy coral reefs in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, INVERSA’s materials help fashion revive and heal the planet. Each lionfish can consume up to 70,000 native reef fish in its lifetime. By removing these invasive predators INVERSA enables the precious coral reef ecosystems to rehabilitate and ensure that the biodiversity of the reef is maintained.

In less than two years, Florida based INVERSA has partnered with brands across the fashion sector, from small leather goods to shoes. It has already removed thousands of invasive predators and protected native species.

Challenge 

Lionfish became invasive in Atlantic waters after being imported for aquariums and subsequently being deposited into waterways. Due to their size and dominance, they have no natural predators in the Atlantic and rapidly overpopulated many areas, damaging coral reefs by devouring native fish in the Western Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

Invasive lionfish affect over 42 million livelihoods in the western Atlantic basin that make their living from coral reefs. INVERSA works to provide new jobs and financial stability to the local people living and working in these areas. If lionfish numbers remain unchecked, coral reefs are quickly decimated, dramatically degrading local ecosystems and economies with long term consequences.

It is estimated that USD$1.2 trillion of damage has been caused by human introduced invasive species within the USA waters alone since 1960. Each year, this amasses to USD$21 billion of loss*.

*Sources:

i) Invasive species cost the USD$21 billion per year, study finds, 4 January 2022
ii) Economic costs of biological invasions in the United States, 1 February 2022
iii) Auburn University researcher co-authors study determining economic impact of invasive species in U.S. exceeds USD$1.2 trillion, 1 February 2022

Solution

INVERSA Leathers seeks to revive coral reefs and the local communities that rely on them by removing these invasive fish. The lionfish project underwrites fishers’ risk with a 100 per cent catch-to-cash guarantee, financing the upfront re-tooling expenses for fishers to hunt and catch lionfish, offering premium incentives and prompt payment timelines. This, in turn, encourages large numbers of lionfish hides to be obtained, which has positive implications for the ecosystem whilst at the same time forming the very core of INVERSA Leathers’ business.

INVERSA partners with local fishers and divers to source its products. It develops robust economies in vulnerable and low-income communities by rewarding the removal of invasive species.

Scalability and Next Steps

In addition to ORRAA’s support, INVERSA is also backed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the leading US agency on the environment and conservation, as well as the Government of Mexico and the State of Florida. Fashion brands such as Oleada and Teton Leather Company utilise the products they create.

To date INVERSA Leathers has three initiatives that produce products that work to revive three different ecosystems: (1) invasive lionfish leather that protects coral reefs from the Gulf of Mexico through to the Mediterranean; (2) invasive dragonfin leather that protects rivers and lakes across the United States; and (3) invasive Everglade python leather that protects the Everglades Forest in Florida – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

INVERSA has plans to work to help save further ecosystems and communities by making invasive species’ hides a valued commodity in the fashion industry, providing ecological and economic benefits to the communities they serve.

Aarav Chavda, CEO and Co-Founder, INVERSA Leathers
Deepika Nagarajan, Chief Marketing Officer, INVERSA Leathers
An invasive Lionfish in the Atlantic off the coast of Mexico
A diver watching an invasive Lionfish off the coast of Mexico