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