REEF's Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF affiliate scientist Dr. Stephanie Green (Oregon State University) and REEF Advisory Panel member Dr. Steve Gittings (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries) participated in the first submersible expedition to assess the lionfish invasion on deep marine habitats off South Florida June 27-29. While REEF and other scientists have studied lionfish in shallow habitats, the Antipodes lionfish expedition gave scientists the opportunity to learn about lionfish populations far below recreational diving limits. The five person submersible is capable of descending to 300 m (1,000 ft) deep and has large acrylic domes that allow for observations and photography.
During the expedition, team members including Dr. Gittings and Dr. Green completed dives to 300ft in the submersible to look for lionfish on both natural rocky and artificial reefs, including the 209ft-long cargo ship Bill Boyd. Both scientists sighted dozens of invasive lionfish in all habitat types during the dive, highlighted by view of the stern of the wreck holding dozens of lionfish. Dr. Green also conducted a number of REEF surveys to document the native fish community in areas invaded by lionfish, sighting a number of reef fishes that are often only found below recreational dive limits, including snowy grouper, roughtongue bass, red barbier, short bigeye, and bank butterflyfish.
The project, hosted by NOVA Southeastern University, was led by OceanGate Inc. and included participants from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, University of Miami, NOVA, and Guy Harvey Foundation, and others. On Saturday following the expedition dives, Lad Akins, Dr. Green, and Dr. Gittings met with media and the public in a half-day summit to discuss the invasion and potential actions to manage lionfish populations in areas that can't regularly be accessed by divers. The summit concluded with a lionfish filleting demonstration by Lad, and a tasting of lionfish ceviche prepared by Kareem Anguin, Executive Chef, The Oceanaire Seafood Room. See the expedition website for more information.
As part of a Florida Sea Grant funded project, REEF is working this summer to assess deepwater lionfish populations in the Florida Keys using ROVs and technical divers.