To regenerate coral reefs, Inversa is turning invasive lionfish into beyond-sustainable leather

From American signal crayfish to Japanese knotweed, one way to combat invasive species is to dish them up — if you can't beat them, eat them. But with a creature as destructive and exponentially reproductive as lionfish, dinner isn't making enough of a dent.

Attempting to create greater demand for the spectacular fish that's wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems in Caribbean and Atlantic waters, Inversa is focusing not on lionfish flesh but on its hide. The Florida-based startup was founded by avid scuba divers who witnessed severe degradation of coral reefs as the numbers of nonnative lionfish exploded and decimated native species.

Manufacturers using Inversa's lionfish leather include Teton Leather Co. and Italian footwear brand P448. On the supply side, Inversa plans to finance retooling expenses for fishing cooperatives in Quintana Roo, Mexico, incentivizing them to hunt and catch lionfish. That project was recently selected as one of nine finalists for this year's Ocean Resilience Innovation Challenge.

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While sustainability has long focused on limiting the harm humans do to their environment, conscious consumers and innovative brands are increasingly seeking ways to repair and restore.

That's the 'beyond sustainable' approach Inversa is taking — not just reducing harm but regenerating marine habitats devastated by a nonnative fish with a huge appetite and no predators. Given the amount they eat and their average lifespan of 15 years, each lionfish removed from the coastal waters of Florida and Mexico could save up to 70,000 native reef fish. If you can't ban them, tan them...? ;-)

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