Expedition Lionfish

South Florida: June 27 - 29, 2013

Since the species first appeared in Florida waters in the mid-1980s, lionfish populations have expanded throughout the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico and now threaten native reef ecosystems. The introduction of this exotic species with no natural predators poses the danger of destabilizing the delicate natural balance of our local waters. Fisheries that we depend on for food, sport, and tourism are endangered by the threat of ecosystem failure brought on by the invasive lionfish.

In a concerted effort to address this problem, OceanGate organized Expedition Lionfish to take researchers, media, and sponsors to the depths off the southeast Florida coast on June 27-28 to study the invasive lionfish aboard our manned submersible Antipodes.  On June 29, OceanGate and its expedition partners hosted a science/media summit and lionfish tasting in order to bring awareness to the threat lionfish pose to  Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico ecosystems.

The goals of our expedition, all of which were achieved or surpassed, were to:

  • Raise public awareness of lionfish as an invasive species;
  • Improve our understanding of lionfish distributions and behaviors; and
  • Test and evaluate methods for the lionfish remediation.


In January 2012, Seattle-based OceanGate Inc. began a year-long expedition to Miami, Florida, the primary focus of which was to conduct research in conjunction with the Miami-Dade Artificial Reefs Program.  The nine sites visited by Antipodes and her crew included several known wrecks, including the Spirit of Hemingway and Mary Star of the Sea, though some of the dives yielded surprises. One site yielded the wreck of a WWII-era Marine fighter plane, which the US Navy subsequently identified as a Grumman F6F Hellcat. Locating the Hellcat was only one of several discoveries the OceanGate team made during the Miami Expedition 2012. While marine researchers were aware that the lionfish was an increasingly invasive species in South Florida waters, the extensive prevalence of the fish as noted during OceanGate dives, even at depths as great as 70 meters, has pointed to the need for an ongoing investigation of the species and its effects on the local marine habitat.

Antipodes: Lionfish Research Dives

During the expedition’s June 27-28 dives, OceanGate’s professional crew was supplemented by leading scientists, select media, and sponsors to conduct research on the invasive lionfish in the depths off southeast Florida. The dives allowed researchers to observe population densities, distribution, and behaviors below diver depth. Data collected included HD video recordings and 2D sonar scans; in order to raise awareness of the challenges with invasive species, video was made available to the media and participants.

Summit and Tasting

The final day of the expedition, June 29, was dedicated to a summary review of scientific observations and video captured during the expedition. The summit, hosted at the Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center in Dania Beach, featured panel discussions by leading experts on aquatic invasive species and was open to the public and members of the media. The event concluded with a lionfish tasting, at which attendees were shown how to prepare lionfish for cooking.

Moderators and panelists included: Dr. Stephanie Green, Oregon State University; Dr. David Kerstetter, Nova Southeastern University; Dr. Keene Haywood, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science; Dan Ellinor, John Hunt, and Keith Mille, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission; Lad Akins, REEF; Matthew Johnston, NSU. Dr. Steve Gittings, Science Program Manager, NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program; Dr. Charles Messing, NSU; Dr. Tammy Frank, NSU..

Expedition Lionfish Partners

OceanGate’s Expedition Lionfish was made possible by the support and collaborative effort of:

Participating Researchers

Lad Akins

Director of Special Projects, Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF)

Dr. Tamara Frank

Professor of Oceanography, Nova Southeastern University; Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Dr. Steve Gittings

Chief Scientist, National Marine Sanctuary Program, NOAA

Dr. Stephanie Green

Postdoctoral Researcher, Oregon State University; Corvallis, Oregon

Dr. Keene Haywood

Director of Education, Exploration Science Program, University of Miami, Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy; Miami, Florida

Dr. David Kerstetter

Research Scientist & Adjunct Professor, Nova Southeastern University; Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Dr. Charles Messing

Professor of Oceanography, Nova Southeastern University; Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Dr. Richard Spieler

Professor and Director of Academic Programs, Nova Southeastern University; Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Dan Ellinor

Commercial Liaison, Division of Marine Fisheries Management, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Tallahassee, Florida

John Hunt

Program Administrator, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, South Region, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; Marathon, Florida

Dr. Pat Quinn

Beach and Marine Resources Section, Broward County Natural Resources Planning & Management Division; Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Expedition Fast Facts:

Expedition Dates: June 27-29, 2013

Location: South Florida, USA

Total Dives: 4 over 2 days

Total Crew: 19 (including pilot)

Hours of Dive Data Collected: 8

Total Manhours Underwater:
152 research hours

Expedition Gallery:

Kenny Hague piloting dinghy to Antipodes as Stockton Rush readies hatch.

Panelists at Expedition Lionfish Summit.

Experts and crew confer prior to a dive in Antipodes.

Summit participants gather during the Expedition Lionfish Tasting.