In August/September 2015, trained volunteers and research partners conducted fish surveys and removed 317 lionfish from Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS) as part of the first ever Lionfish Invitational.
A second invitational was held in August/September 2016, which resulted in the removal of 394 lionfish.
Our next invitational is scheduled for August 27-31, 2017. Applications for the 2017 trip are now available and due by May 1st.
27 volunteers and 3 sanctuary staff participated in the first Lionfish Invitational. (Image: FGBNMS/Drinnen)
In recent years, national marine sanctuaries have hosted education and outreach events to raise awareness about the lionfish threat, including lionfish derbies where dive teams compete to remove lionfish. The Lionfish Invitational is the FGBNMS's version of this, with an added science component.
Removal numbers were posted on the FLING so everyone could see the results of their efforts.
Because of the remote nature of the sanctuary, only a limited number of people can participate, so interested divers are asked to submit applications and 22 volunteers are selected.
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The Lionfish Invitational isn't just about removing invasive lionfish, but also about understanding how the invasion and removals are impacting the sanctuary.
Before and after lionfish are removed at each buoy location, a science team of 8 divers conducts surveys to determine what species, quantities and sizes of fish are present.
Fish survey slates hang off the science team's gear before the next dive. (Image: FGBNMS/Drinnen)
The 2015 science team consisted of divers from FGBNMS, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS), Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), Oregon State University (OSU), Texas A&M University (TAMU), and Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.
Back row: Steve Gittings (ONMS), Raven Walker (TAMU)
Front Row: Lad Akins (REEF), Kelly Drinnen (FGBNMS), Stephanie Green (OSU), Michelle Johnston (FGBNMS), Kevin Buch (OSU), Desiree Bell (Audubon Aquarium)
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Although spear fishing in the sanctuary is illegal, specific collection permits are issued by the sanctuary for this event, since pole spears are the most effective means of capturing lionfish.
ZooKeepers were used to protect divers from lionfish spines and allow them to collect multiple fish each dive.
Before the trip begins, participants are trained how to protect both the reef and themselves when spearing lionfish.
The funnel at one end of a ZooKeeper allows the diver to push a speared lionfish into the container then remove just the spear. (Image: FGBNMS/Drinnen)
One ZooKeeper is assigned to each dive team. After each removal dive, the ZooKeepers are emptied into baskets for tallying.
Captured lionfish were emptied into baskets for easier handling. (Images: FGBNMS/Drinnen)
One by one, each lionfish is measured, bagged and tagged before heading to the freezer.
Each batch of lionfish is labeled to account for where and when the fish were captured and by which group.
The lionfish going into this bag were captured at East Flower Garden Bank, buoy #4, on September 1, 2015 during dive 4 that began at 5:30 p.m. The ZooKeeper number on the label will identify which dive team caught them. (Image: FGBNMS/Drinnen)
The largest lionfish caught during the 2015 Invitational was 431mm (17 inches) and the smallest was 76mm (3 inches). In 2016 we captured one even smaller, at 30mm (1 inch).
Largest lionfish caught. (Image: FGBNMS/Drinnen)
Lad Akins holds the largest lionfish for everyone to see. Stephanie Green, background, is labeling a bag to hold it. (Image: FGBNMS/Drinnen)
Smallest lionfish caught. (Image: FGBNMS/Drinnen)
At a later date, these lionfish are evaluated for gut contents, genetics and age.
This work is part of an effort to better understand the effects of invasive lionfish on native fish communities and habitats in the sanctuary.
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For more information on the issues caused by lionfish in the sanctuary, please visit our Invasive Lionfish page.
To learn more about the data we collect from lionfish, please visit our Lionfish Research page.
At the end of the day, things were as beautiful topside as they were underwater! (Image: FGBNMS/Drinnen)