More Than 500 Lionfish Removed in Florida Keys Inaugural Lionfish Tournament

he one-day catch of invasive lionfish around Key Largo by a team as part of the lionfish derby.Photo by Carlos Estape.
Carlos and Allison Estape (REEF volunteers) proudly display their award plaque for turning in smallest lionfish (1st Place).
REEF Field Operations Coordinator, Alecia Adamson, measures the largest lionfish captured during the Key Largo derby.

Approximately 100 divers collected 534 Indo-Pacific red lionfish during the first tournament dedicated to reducing the population of the invasive species in the Florida Keys waters. The September 11 tournament in Key Largo, organized by REEF and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is the first of three Keys-based lionfish roundups. The event attracted 27 teams that competed for cash and prizes to collect the most, largest and smallest lionfish. The winning team captured 111 lionfish during the single day event. The largest lionfish caught measured in at just under 11 inches, and the smallest at less than two inches. Lionfish can grow to lengths of over 18 inches in western Atlantic waters where they are not native.

“The sanctuary is thrilled by the response from the dive community,” said Sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton. “The volume of fish caught during this single day event demonstrates that dedicated diver removal efforts can be effective at helping keep this invasive at bay.”

Team “Raaw Talent,” from the Upper Keys and led by Captain Al Wilson, captured 111 lionfish and the grand prize of $1,000 for most lionfish. The “Lion Killers” of Islamorada and Marathon netted the largest lionfish, along with $500. And with the capture of the smallest lionfish, team “Full Circle from Key Dives” also caught themselves $500. Both teams “Raaw Talent” and “Full Circle” had been through REEF’s educational workshops on lionfish safety and handling and have been very active in reporting sightings to REEF and capturing lionfish for research purposes. These lionfish derbies are great events to reward those already involved in REEF’s lionfish control programs and to recruit more people to become active in lionfish control.

“The community participation in this event surpassed even our most generous expectations”, said REEF Director of Operations, Lad Akins. “Everyone came together for a great event, including sponsors, volunteers, organizers, and of course, the lionfish hunters. Even those who brought in a single fish contributed to the protection of our native marine life and deserve our thanks.”

Divers and snorkelers interested in participating for the remaining 2010 Keys lionfish tournaments may register online at The second lionfish derby will be held October 16 at Keys Fisheries Market and Marina in Marathon, FL. The third derby will be held November 13 at Hurricane Hole Marina, in Key West, FL. A $100 registration fee provides each team with a pair of puncture resistant gloves — important protection from lionfish spines — and two tickets to the tournament banquet. For more information on REEF's programs to study the lionfish invasion, go to

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Eco-Dives

Pugjaw wormfish, one of Rob's best finds.

REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

This month we feature Eco-Dives in Key West, Florida, which has been a Field Station since 2010. Eco-Dives owner, Rob McCall, is fascinated by learning and finding new species and enjoys sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with others. Rob has been a REEF surveyor since 2001 so it was a natural to incorporate REEF into his business. Eco-Dives primarily teaches advanced open-water scuba certifications because it enables them to focus on fun courses such as underwater photography and the REEF Fish ID specialty. Eco-dives was also one of the first dive operators to offer a Lionfish Diver specialty that teaches divers the basics of the lionfish invasion, why it is so detrimental to our reefs, and how to report sightings.

“Out of 775 REEF survey dives and countless other dives with students, the most unusual fish we have found on our dives has been a pugjaw wormfish.” says Rob. Fortunately Rob was able to snap a couple pictures of it to confirm the identification of such a unique fish. Rob's sighting was only the sixth time that species had ever been reported on a REEF survey.

Although Key West is not known for its pristine reefs, Rob says the dive sites are convenient, the reefs are well-populated with small-to-medium size fish, and they have mature wrecks with plenty of big fish. The newest addition to the armada of artificial reefs in the Keys, the Vandenberg, is a great dive and a fish magnet. REEF has been monitoring the Vandenberg since it was sunk and Rob has been a great help on a number of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveys documenting reef fish recruitment over time.

Rob says that he "really enjoys working with REEF surveyors; they are always so enthusiastic. Doing surveys has made me look much harder at fish, looking for distinguishing features so I can identify them. This results in you seeing so much more during a dive."

REEF Notes


Thanks to everyone who donated during our Summer Campaign, you helped us reach our goal. REEF members contributed over $34,770, with a generous match of $30,000 from the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, for a grand total of $64,770. REEF will use these donations to maintain our current programs and expand our special projects, the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Research Program. Donations from our members make it possible for REEF to carry out our mission of conserving marine ecosystems. Thank you!

Don't forget to check out the 2012 REEF Field Survey Trips! The schedule and more details are posted online at We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. Many are starting to fill up so don't delay.

Have you checked out our new innovative online Fish Identification "Fishinars"(aka webinars)? These fun and short (45 minute) sessions are a great way to learn marine life ID from the comfort of your home. And they are free. The schedule is available at We are always adding more sessions, so check back often.

Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Maui FIN


REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. Our fintastically outstanding field station this month is the Maui FIN (Fish Identification Network) group in Hawaii. This enthusiastic group of divers and snorkelers has been going strong for years. They meet on the 2nd Saturday of each month to conduct surveys at different spots around Maui. After introducing REEF to the Hawaiian Islands 10 years ago, Donna Brown and Liz Foote (who taught our online Hawaiian Fishinar last week), started building a team of enthusiastic fish surveyors. It was out of that enthusiasm that surveyor Mike Fausnaugh started the FIN group. Flo Bahr and Rick Long have been longtime active leaders of the group. When snorkeling, they all put orange duct tape at the tops of their snorkels. This helps the group find each other while in the water, as well as make them easy to spot from the beach. Tourists also ask about what they're doing and this helps show how many are out there doing REEF surveys. In addition to the monthly FIN survey dives, they maintain a Facebook page for the group that serves as a great communication tool. Through the Facebook page, they organize their next survey spots, share zone codes, spread announcements, and post photos and mystery fish questions. Keep up the enthusiastic surveying, FINsters!

2012 REEF Lionfish Derby Series Remove 2,694 Invasive Fish

Members of Team Frapper with REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins (center), holding a huge lionfish that the team captured during the Key Largo Derby.

This summer REEF, in partnership with Divers Direct and SeaGrant Florida, hosted its third annual Lionfish Derby Series. The series included four derbies in Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Key Largo) and one in Green Turtle Key, Bahamas. The event series was a huge success—in total, 219 participants in 60 teams brought in a total of 2,694 lionfish! Lionfish are invasive predators capable of consuming prey in excess of half their body size and have become a hazard to Caribbean reefs by consuming commercially, recreationally and ecologically important fish and crustaceans. Using published estimates of lionfish consumption, the removal of the 1,923 lionfish collected in the Florida derbies corresponds to preventing between approximately 3.5 million to 14.8 million prey fish from being eaten by these lionfish over the next year.

Lionfish derbies serve as a way to engage the public and media, enhance awareness, encourage removals and provide samples for researchers. During each the derby over $3,500 in cash prizes sponsored by Divers Direct were awarded to first, second, and third place winners in three categories: Most, Largest, and Smallest.

Since their introduction in the 1980’s, invasive lionfish have become the first marine predator to successfully establish in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Unfortunately, complete eradication of lionfish is unlikely, but where removal efforts are sustained, population numbers and impacts can be reduced. REEF and Simon Fraser University partnered throughout the 2012 Derby Series to conduct research on the effectiveness of derbies in controlling local populations. Preliminary data analysis from the 2012 Green Turtle Key, Bahamas, Derby shows that lionfish derbies are effective at removing 65% of lionfish off of local reefs. The Derby Series is one of the many ways REEF is promoting lionfish control. A big thank you goes out to the derby sponsors, hosts, teams and everyone who came out to support the events. To find out more about the REEF Invasive Lionfish Program, including the derby series, visit You can also follow all of our lionfish news through our Lionfish Facebook page.

Lionfish Food and Wine Event Held In Key Largo

Lad Akins shows the audience which spines contain venom. Photo by: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau
Four course lionfish dinner at Fish House Encore. Photo by: Donna Dietrich.
The Lionfish Cookbook is available on REEF's Website.

More than sixty people gathered earlier this month at the Fish House Encore in Key Largo, Florida, for Lionfish Food and Wine Night. Before dining, event attendees learned about the lionfish invasion and the importance of removing lionfish from marine environments. Peter Tselikis, chef at Fish House Encore, showed the audience how to cook two popular lionfish dishes. Lad Akins, a renowned lionfish expert and REEF Director of Special Projects, taught the audience how to fillet lionfish, avoiding the venomous spines.

The invasive species, known for their voracious appetites and rapid reproduction, was prepared four different ways with a creative medley of ingredients and wine selections. Entrées included bacon-wrapped barbeque lionfish, sea salt-cured lionfish ceviche, and poached lionfish. Many guests said their favorite dish was Lionfish Bermuda, a lionfish fillet encrusted with fried red onions and Japanese breadcrumbs, baked and served with a sweet and sour sauce atop baby arugula salad.

“It’s exciting to see such strong public and commercial interest in consuming lionfish,” says Akins. “Developing a market for lionfish is a great way to provide incentive for increased removals. Even non-divers can make a real impact, by ordering the fish at their local restaurants, helping to decrease lionfish populations and minimize their impacts.”

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, have now invaded the Western Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. In the invaded range, they have been documented to be gluttonous predators of native fish and invertebrates. One published study co-authored by Akins (Green et al. 2012) shows lionfish reduced the native fish prey community at some sites in the Bahamas by an average of 65% in just two years. Some sites had a 95% decline. Despite the dismal outlook, there is good news. Published studies show local control by divers and fishers can be effective, Akins notes. “Removing lionfish from local reefs is like weeding a garden. Remove weeds and the garden is healthier. Remove lionfish and the reefs are healthier. The key is regular removals, year round.”

For more information on REEF's Invasive Lionfish Program, visit Creative lionfish recipes, as well as information on catching, cleaning, and cooking lionfish, can be found in the Lionfish Cookbook available on the REEF Store.

Upcoming Fishinars -- Pacific Northwest Invertebrate Series and more

Photo by Janna Nichols.
Photo by Janna Nichols.

Have you joined a Fishinar yet? These popular online REEF webinar training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:

Spineless Critters Series: Pacific NW Invertebrate ID - While Pacific Northwest waters are not known for their schools of colorful fish, the amazing invertebrate life will blow you away! In these four sessions we'll cover a select group of invertebrates from 8 phyla, all of which are monitored by REEF volunteer divers.

Sponges and Stingers - January 8th, 2014

Gettin' Crabby - January 9th, 2014

Marvelous Molluscs - January 15th, 2014

Stars and Squirts - January 16th, 2014


Squirrels, Soldiers & Cardinals: Seeing Red? Count on It! - January 21, 2014

New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page ( for the most up-to-date listing and to register for each session.

Book Your Space on a 2015 REEF Trip Before It's Too Late

REEF Trip to Dominica in 2014.
Happy surveyors in Fiji 2013.
Dive the Bahamas aboard the Aqua Cat in 2015!

If you haven't yet had a chance to check out REEF's 2015 Field Survey Trip Schedule, we encourage you to take a look. Visit to see the complete schedule, package details, trip leader bios, trip policies, and more. We hope you will join us!. Spaces are starting to fill up, and we want to make sure you don't miss this chance to take a "Dive Vacation that Counts". These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fish watchers.

2015 REEF Field Survey Schedule

Feb 28 - Mar 7 -- Hawaii -- Kona Aggressor II Liveaboard, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Details

Mar 14 - 21 -- Grand Cayman -- Wall to Wall Diving and Comfort Suites, Led by Jonathan Lavan, Details

May 2 - 12 and May 12 - 19 -- Fiji -- NAI'A Livaboard, Led by Dr. Chrisy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, Wk 1 Details, Wk 2 Details

May 9 - 16 -- Bahamas Invasive Lionfish Control Study -- Explorer II Liveaboard, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, Details

Jun 13 - 20 -- Roatan -- Anthony's Key Resort, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, Details

Jul 11 - 18 -- Grand Turk -- Oasis Divers & Osprey Beach Hotel, Led by Paul Humann, Details

Aug 1 - 8 -- Bonaire -- Buddy Dive, Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Dr. Brice Semmens, Details

Aug 22 - 29 -- Curacao Invasive Lionfish Control Study -- GO WEST Diving & Kura Hulanda Lodge, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes, Details

Sep 19 - 26 -- Bahamas -- Aqua Cat Liveaboard, Led by Heather George, Details

Nov 1 - 5 -- Catalina Island -- Scuba Luv & Pavilion Hotel, Led by Janna Nichols, Details

Dec 5 - 12 -- Cozumel -- Chili Charters & Safari Inn or Casa Mexicana, Led by Tracey Griffin, Details

A Few Spaces Remain on 2015 REEF Trips - Fiji, Curacao, Catalina, and St. Lucia

Our 2015 REEF Trips are off to a great start, with fun, successful trips to Kona and Grand Cayman so far. Most of the remaining trips are sold out, but a few spaces remain. We would love to have you join us in Fiji (May 2-12, one male space left), Curacao (Aug 22 - 29, one male space left), Catalina Island (Nov 1 - 5, 4 spaces left), or St. Lucia (Dec 5-12, 6 spaces left). For trips that are sold out, we are happy to add your name on a wait list, as sometimes traveler's plans do change. We are working hard to get the 2016 trips organized. Our Philippines trip next April is already half full, so act soon on this one if you are interested. The rest of the 2016 schedule will be ready soon. To find out details on all of these trips, visit

The Faces of REEF: Alice Ribbens

Alice, with husband Will, in Indonesia.
The spectacular Pajama Cardinalfish. Photo courtesy WikiMedia.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Alice Ribbens, a REEF member since 2010. Despite being based in snowy Minnesota, MN (USA), Alice is an active surveying member who has conducted over 70 surveys in four of REEF's regions (TWA, PAC, TEP, and CIP). She is a member of Advanced Assessment Team in the TWA, and she is a SCUBA instructor who enjoys sharing her love of fish ID. Here's what she had to say about REEF:

How did you become involved with REEF?

I had always been interested in identifying creatures seen on my dives. My husband bought me the ReefNet fish ID software for my birthday in 2010. Through that, I found out about REEF. I joined right away and was hooked on Fishinars from our very first one!

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

My first REEF trip was to the Sea of Cortez in 2012 aboard the Rocio del Mar. Diving with such an experienced group of divers and surveyors was incredible. Also very exciting to see my first whale shark (with Christy and Brice reminding us to put down “whale shark” and “remora” on our surveys)!

Do you have a favorite local (or not) REEF field station or dive shop?

I am an instructor at Scuba Center in Eagan, MN. They became a REEF Field Station in 2014. I have been running “Fish Nights”: we use a combination of REEF materials and fish photos to teach about fish ID. When a Fishinar is on a night that our classroom is free, we try to participate live. Otherwise, we pick recorded fishinars based on an upcoming trip or people’s interests. Although we don’t have a lot of active surveyors yet, the Fish Nights are very popular, a number of our instructors and divers have joined REEF, and everyone is learning a lot.

What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?

Diving in Minnesota is not too exciting in terms of fish, so I love to travel to dive. I always look in nooks and crannies for fish and critters. I’m a little obsessed with cardinalfish right now, probably because they are generally so shy. I was so happy to find pajama cardinalfish in Raja Ampat. I know they are not unusual, but they are so cute! (I loved anemonefish until one bit me—I had a fish hickey on my forehead for several days.)

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you first start. Fishinars are great to get the basics. With surveys, start slow, learn a few new fish every day, and write down what you know. (Photos are great, but work on your buoyancy skills before adding a camera.) Dive with a likeminded buddy so you can help each other with mystery fish. REEF Trips are like fish boot camp so if you can join one, do it. I thought I knew my TWA fish before my first REEF trip there, but was amazed at how much I learned!

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