Divers who enjoy the Keys' living coral reef can help protect it and give back to the environment in a fun, competitive derby to capture and remove non-native lionfish from Keys waters.
In addition to monthly contests and workshops educating divers about safe lionfish collection and removal techniques, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation is sponsoring a one-day derby Sept. 14 at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, located at mile marker 102.5 in Key Largo.
Through a continued partnership between the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, REEF, and the dive community, these hands-on opportunities are available for Keys visitors to take action and remove invasive lionfish.
A popular aquarium fish, lionfish are believed to have been introduced to Florida waters during the 1980s. The voracious invaders, whose population is growing rapidly in Atlantic waters, outcompete native fish for food and territory.
Derby divers vie for more than $3,500 in prize money. First- through third-place teams are awarded $1,000, $500 and $250, respectively, for the most lionfish captured. Cash prizes also are awarded for the top three largest and smallest lionfish.
Teams of up to four people can register. Early registration fee is $120 and includes one pair of puncture-resistant gloves per team. A mandatory team captains meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 13. Divers can participate in the derby from private vessels or join a professional dive operator's charter.
For event information and registration, go to reef.org/lionfish/derbies or call 852-0030.