Diving volunteers nab 675 lionfish during Key Largo event this weekend

(DiverWire) Dozens of scuba divers successfully removed 675 invasive lionfish from Florida Keys waters this weekend the Second Annual Florida Keys Lionfish Derby Series in Key Largo, Fla., organized by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF).

Key Largo lionfish derbyNineteen teams of divers competed for $3,350 in cash and prizes in the categories of most, largest and smallest lionfish in the second of three Florida Keys lionfish derbies planned for 2011. Team “Strategery” of Key Largo netted $1,000 for most lionfish with their haul of 289 fish collected in the single day event. Team “Key Dives” of Islamorada, won $500 for largest lionfish with a 143/5-inch fish, while Team “Conch Republic Divers” of Tavernier took home $500 for the smallest lionfish at 23/4-inches. Some teams took prizes in multiple categories.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey collected tissue samples from lionfish caught at the derby to learn more about lionfish genetics, growth and impacts to native marine life. Derby attendees sampled cooked lionfish appetizers and viewed fillet demonstrations. The Key Largo derby was sponsored by Divers Direct, Markey Marine Services, and Ocean Reef Conservation Association.

The final 2011 Florida Keys lionfish derby is schedule for November 5 at Hurricane Hole Marina in Key West. Teams of up to four divers may register at http://www.reef.org/lionfish/derbies/keysderbies

Growing populations of lionfish off the southeast U.S. and Caribbean are impacting native reef fish communities and could hamper stock rebuilding efforts. Lionfish have no known predators and consume commercially and ecologically important fish species.

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.

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