Despite a summer with very little Lionfish Derby action, our Invasive Species Program has been keeping busy with plenty of projects, including several grants that we have recently been awarded to support our ongoing lionfish work. First, we're excited to share that REEF has been awarded $299,087 through NOAA's Saltonstall-Kennedy Competitive Grants Program, to study the effectiveness of lionfish traps on deep reefs in the Florida Keys. These innovative, non-containment lionfish traps do not use bait and are designed specifically to attract lionfish, which prefer to live near structure and manmade objects. Traps like these are beneficial because they reduce bycatch and eliminate the risk of abandoned fishing traps, also known as "ghost traps." This project will build upon previous experience from several organizations and individuals, including Dr. Steve Gittings of NOAA, who originally designed the traps.

Throughout the course of the two-year grant period, REEF will collaborate with partners including Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Dr. Steve Gittings, Alex Fogg (Coast Watch Alliance), Dr. Holden Harris (University of Florida) and Lionfish University. We will also utilize the expertise of the Florida Keys lobster fishing community to improve trap design and catch rates. Ultimately, the goal of the project is to determine whether NC lionfish traps are an effective and viable fishing method to target lionfish populations in deep water. Widespread lionfish trap use may significantly reduce the impacts of lionfish on deep water habitats that are not able to be accessed by recreational divers.

Additionally, we have updated our invasive species education and outreach materials, thanks to funding from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Fish Florida. The REEF Campus now has a brand new lionfish display featuring a traveling aquarium, which allows us to bring live lionfish into classrooms and to events like derbies. We have also upgraded our lionfish dissection display and supplies. This new exhibit includes a stereo-dissecting and compound microscope station, allowing visitors to view spines, scales, plankton, larvae, and eggs up close. We look forward to incorporating this hands-on exhibit into future Ocean Explorers Education Programs. REEF offers virtual and in person education programs, and each session can be customized to fit the needs and interests of the group. For more information about our education programs, visit this page.