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REEF Lionfish Derby and Education for Healthier Oceans

| Angela Naff |

REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) hosted the Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival on Sunday, September 11, 2022, to amazing results. This derby is just one of many programs REEF helps host and welcomes the public to participate throughout the year. REEF works on numerous annual initiatives involving education on assorted topics impacting our oceans. These lionfish derbies are one such effort that happens throughout the year to try and lower the lionfish numbers in the waters of the Florida coastline.

Much of the public is not aware of how invasive this creature is and how it is spread out throughout the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. These events are as much about education as they are actively doing something about the Lionfish issue. Due to misinformation on lionfish and a general lack of understanding of how bad this species can be to the waterways, REEF has escalated efforts to educate the public over the last decade. Lionfish derbies educate participants and the public while helping to raise awareness of the problem on a bigger stage. Significant local, national, and international media coverage of derby events has helped facilitate education to those not located here in the directly impacted communities and geographically connected to the invaded range.


Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific; these invasive species harm reefs and ocean biodiversity throughout the region because of their voracious appetites and prolific reproduction rates. They can clear out all the small fish that help coral reefs survive in a noticeably short time and have no local predators. Left unchecked, lionfish cause dramatic declines to biodiversity and abundance of native fish populations. The derbies hosted by REEF since 2009 have been responsible for removing 30,186 lionfish prior to the derby on September 11, 2022. During the September 11, derby teams fished from sunrise to sunset on Friday, September 9, until the event concluded on Sunday, September 11. In the end18, teams of scuba divers took to the water and collected 919 invasive lionfish during the single event.

More than $6,500 in cash and prizes were awarded to teams who brought in the most, largest, and smallest lionfish. The “Most Lionfish” category included the competitive Apex Predators division and the Reef Defenders division for casual lionfish hunters. Team Forever Young led the Apex Predators with 400 lionfish. Team Massai Warriors finished second with 116 lionfish, and team ZooKeeper placed third with 115 lionfish. Fourth and fifth place went to team Wynwood Dive Crew with 46 lionfish and team The Hunters with 21 lionfish. Team Men of Science won first place in the Reef Defenders division with 74 lionfish. Team Squid Ink brought in 55 lionfish for second place, team Will 2 Spear won third place with 46 lionfish, and Barnacles placed fourth with 19 lionfish.

Everyone can play a role in this conservation effort by removing or eating invasive lionfish or helping to spread awareness about the issue. We are so thankful to all of the derby teams, volunteers, and festival attendees who helped make the Florida Keys Lionfish Derby & Festival a success,” said Alli Candelmo, Ph.D., REEF Conservation Science Manager.

Check out the upcoming events if you haven’t participated in a REEF event. Education on the species and environmental impacts on our oceans is critical to those calling Florida home. Education for younger kids means this research and knowledge can help arm future generations to help best care for our oceans now and into the future. Maybe you also can get in on the next lionfish derby and help get more of this invasive species out of the oceans we love.

Photos courtesy of REEF  

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