Divers collecting lionfish during the 2011 Florida Keys lionfish derbies are doing more than enjoying a day on the water; they are raising much needed awareness about invasive species as well as contributing to science. Tuesday, officials from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary issued a report about the lionfish events being presented in conjunction with the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF).
According to Karrie Carnes of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the events are drawing a wide range of participants anxious to help rid the local waters of the invasive lionfish. The species, which has no known predators, is causing destruction of marine throughout the waters of the Caribbean and Florida Keys.
There are two more Lionfish “derbies” scheduled this summer. Team of up to four divers may register online at www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies to participate. Dive teams will compete for most, largest, and smallest lionfish, vying for a chance at more than $6,500 in cash and prizes. Since 2010, four Florida Keys lionfish derbies have removed more than 1,200 lionfish from sanctuary waters, and reached countless divers, visitors and residents with information on this marine invader.
After being judged for the derby competition, lionfish are weighed and measured by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, and their stomach contents and ear bones (otoliths) taken for further analysis. These samples help scientists learn more about lionfish genetics and growth, as well as impacts to native marine life in the Keys.
Event organizers also gather information about where the lionfish were captured and in what types of habitats. In the Atlantic, lionfish have been found everywhere from the mangrove shallows to depths of 1,000 feet. Learning more about their preferred habitats could help sanctuary and reef managers focus their control strategies and research.
2011 Florida Keys lionfish derby dates and locations:
- August 20 — Coconuts Restaurant, Key Largo, Fla.
- November 5 — Hurricane Hole Marina and Restaurant, Key West, Fla.
Each tournament also includes a detailed awareness and training briefing and lionfish tasting. NOAA has developed an “Eat Lionfish” campaign that brings together fishing communities, wholesalers, and chefs in an effort to broaden U.S. consumers’ awareness of this delicious invader. In 2010, REEF published “The Lionfish Cookbook” which includes 45 recipes and instructions on how to collect and prepare the fish.
The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) is a 501 c (3) marine conservation organization dedicated to protecting and preserving marine environments. REEF has been leading lionfish research, education and control efforts throughout the invaded region. For more information visit www.REEF.org.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary protects 2,900 square nautical miles of critical marine habitat, including coral reef, hard bottom, sea grass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats. NOAA and the state of Florida manage the sanctuary. Visit us online at www.floridakeys.noaa.gov or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/floridakeysnoaagov.
NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us online at www.noaa.govor on Facebook at www.facebook.com/usnoaagov.