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Expedition Lionfish promotes awareness and gauges impact of species

by John Bell on 20 Jun 2013
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The latest tool in the battle against Florida’s alarming lionfish invasion will be deployed this month at Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center in Port Everglades, Florida. From June 27 to 29, the five-person manned submersible Antipodes will take scientists on a series of dives to study the growing lionfish population. The goal of the two days of diving and panel discussions is to foster long-term collaboration among scientists to halt the unprecedented expansion of this invasive species.

Antipodes, operated by OceanGate Inc., will utilize a high-powered prototype collection system to catch the fish for later study. The use of OceanGate’s submersible creates an unprecedented opportunity for real-time scientific collaboration and observation of lionfish in areas below diver depth.

The data collected during the dives will be made available to scientists and researchers across the country.

The recent invasion of lionfish, a non-native predator known for its venomous spines and dramatically increased numbers in the waters of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, has severely decreased native fish populations by up to 80%, creating a serious threat to marine and reef ecosystems. The environmental impact could have direct implications on Florida’s fishing and tourism industries. Industries such as recreational saltwater fishing on Florida's east coast 'generated 29,000 jobs and
$3.3 billion in sales in 2011 alone,' according to NOAA.

Hosted by Nova Southeastern University (NSU), the mission is also supported by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and will conclude on Saturday, June 29, with a panel of leading experts on aquatic invasive species. Scientists will discuss the data and imagery captured during the expedition, as well as their own first-hand observations. Following the summit, Chef Kareem Anguin, from The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Miami, will showcase some of the easiest and tastiest ways to cook lionfish to help promote commercial fishing of the species -- one possible solution to control the population.

'Our expedition is an opportunity for some of the most respected marine experts in the region to come together and find a way to further science on the lionfish epidemic,' states Stockton Rush, OceanGate founder and CEO.

'We’re pleased to provide our manned submersible for this research initiative and for the collaboration between organizations such as NSU and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, all of which share an interest in raising awareness and exploring methodologies for lionfish population controls.'

OceanGate first raised national awareness of the lionfish threat in 2012 during the discovery of a downed World War II Hellcat fighter aircraft. Footage of the wreck also showed an alarming number of lionfish and caught the attention of marine biologists.

'The opportunity to further current research with submersible dives beyond diver depths will offer much needed insight into the species, and bring science closer to a solution for control,' states Richard E. Dodge, Ph.D. Dean of NSU’s Oceanographic Center.

OceanGate welcomes participation from local, regional, national and global partners. Participating organizations include: Broward County, Brownie’s YachtDiver Stores, ExploreOcean, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, NOAA, Nova Southeastern University, Oregon State University, Reef Environmental Education Foundation, and the University of Miami’s Abess Center and Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

The media is invited to attend the June 29 conference. RSVP is recommended.

Interested parties can contact OceanGate’s Brad Wells at brad@opentheoceans.com. For additional information, please visit OceanGate.

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