Currently, the Lionfish Program is the Ocean Support Foundation's main focus. It is working alongside the Bermuda government's Department of Conservation Services, Department of Environmental Protection, Marine Resources Section, and various local and international groups (including Bermuda Zoological Society (BZS), Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS), Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI), Groundswell, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) to achieve the sustainable reduction of the lionfish population around Bermuda.
The Ocean Support Foundation is working in consultation with scientists from NOAA's National Ocean Service and REEF to create a framework for collecting data on lionfish behaviors. This will help the Foundation in further developing the most effective strategies for reducing lionfish numbers in our waters. NOAA and REEF have already compiled a significant volume of data from their lionfish research throughout the Western Atlantic. Having access to this information and the direct experience of researchers such as Dr. James Morris, Stephanie Green, and Lad Akins, means Bermuda can be at the cutting edge of new discoveries that will help us to protect our reefs and ocean environment.
Additionally, OSF is working with the Bermuda's Marine Resources Section, local dive shops, and the scientific community to re-implement the Lionfish Spearing Initiative, which will provide permits to residents and visitors to spear lionfish on scuba and while free diving, anywhere around the island. As part of this program, the Foundation is participating in the development of training programs on the safe capture and handling of lionfish, and has encouraged the development of a PADI Lionfish Specialty Certification Program. This initiative also includes an important reporting procedure, on the Foundation website, utilizing an online Lionfish Reporting Form to collect important data on sightings, capture and other data about how lionfish are impacting Bermuda. There will also be collection sites across the island for people to report on sightings and donate captured lionfish or their remains for research.
The Foundation envisions a scenario where:
- Open ocean vessels are trapping large numbers of lionfish at deep depths each week;
- Researchers are identifying ways to disrupt the lifecycle of the lionfish and to begin to develop long-term strategies to reduce their population;
- Commercial fishermen are actively fishing for lionfish, increasing their earnings and providing a new source of seafood to Bermuda's restaurants;
- Restaurants throughout the island are serving lionfish regularly, as a specialty dish;
- New jobs are created to support the growing demand for lionfish in the commercial fishing, food services, research and other sectors;
- Private and commercial divers are being directed to sensitive areas such as known fish nursery areas, and reef and wreck sites recognized as having populations of lionfish, divers are thus spearing lionfish in greater numbers per dive especially in sensitive sections where traps are not appropriate;
- Youth field trips, lionfish tournaments, annual best lionfish recipe contests, international chefs promoting lionfish, TV shows and movies being filmed about lionfish and other activities taking place island-wide that help publicize the benefits and dangers of the lionfish;
- Bermuda's native fish species and commercial fish stocks are protected from lionfish proliferation and the reef ecosystem remains healthy and vibrant.
The Foundation believes that such a scenario is possible and achieving these goals would lead to the successful control of the lionfish population in Bermuda. This has the potential for reducing the lionfish population to a level that stops the devastating effects already seen in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and elsewhere in the Western Atlantic. If left unchecked, lionfish will take over an increasing number of the reefs in the Atlantic and Caribbean, but with an aggressive approach as described above, Bermuda could avoid that future and become a model for others to follow in managing this epidemic.
The Ocean Support Foundation's Technical Dive Team has a unique skill set. The team is comprised of local divers certified in the use of Closed Circuit Re-breathers
, Open Circuit deep diving and Technical Diving. They have all received training from one or more of the top technical and rebreather instructors in the world including Terrence Tysal, one of the underwater world's most accomplished explorers, Paul Heinerth, a world-renowned cave diver and Jill Heinerth a world class deep diver and videographer.
The training and qualifications of these divers enables them to dive way beyond the depth and time limits of recreational scuba diving. This is essential in enabling the Foundation to:
- Implement its strategies for keeping the lionfish population under control; and
- Provide technical and deep diving support to other marine projects such as the Black Grouper Spawning Ground Project and the BREAM's Deep Coral Research.
The Foundation's Technical Dive Team provides:
- Video footage of undersea sites for scientific records and research
- Statistical tracking of species including numbers, health, locations and habitats
- Testing to gauge effectiveness of different methodologies and technologies on a small-scale, trial basis
- Scientific data, samples, and identification of areas of concern gathered through dives beyond recreational SCUBA limits
- Mapping of the ocean floor and monitoring of changes in the abundances of ocean species
Outreach and Education
The Ocean Support Foundation's Outreach and Education Program provides:
- Lectures and presentations to educate, raise public awareness, and facilitate intelligent debate on ocean environmental issues
- Unbiased reports and data to empower research and educational projects
- Support for special community events
The Foundation's Outreach and Education Team works alongside other groups and organizations such as: BIOS and BAMZ and provides support for these outreach programs. By the spring of 2012, the Outreach and Education Team had spoken to nearly 2,000 students, including over 1,100 through the BIOS Explorer Program. The Foundation hopes to speak at every high school and middle school in Bermuda, as well as to reach the general population through events across the island such as the highly successful World Oceans Day, where lionfish appetizers were offered and OSF showcased the largest lionfish caught locally, a monstrous 18.75 inches (47.63 cm). Our efforts will not stop until every Bermudian is aware of the lionfish problem and recognizes its severity.
Supporting and Collaborating With Other Programs
The Ocean Support Foundation supports a series of projects and initiatives, working in collaboration with government and other organizations to improve the quality of our oceans.
Bermuda Invasive Lionfish Control Initiative (DPLUS001)
The Ocean Support Foundation has been working to tackle the lionfish invasion with collaborators from the Bermuda Lionfish Taskforce, including the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Science, and Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the University of Massachusetts. This collaborative research team gathered critical data on lionfish abundance and distribution from 2013-2015. One of the key findings was of dense aggregations of lionfish at deep reef “hot spots”, at or below 60m. Lionfish densities at these hot spots reach an average of 300 fish per hectare, exceeding what is found in some of the most heavily invaded regions. These data indicate that a dense population of lionfish resides on the deep reefs surrounding Bermuda, which may represent spawning aggregations and/or areas of refuge. Allowing the persistence and growth of these deep populations will undoubtedly have detrimental effects on our coral reef ecosystem.
June 2012 Grouper Ground Project
The Foundation assisted researcher Dr Richard Nemeth, the former Director of the Center for Marine and Environmental Studies at the University of the Virgin Islands, to observe Black Grouper spawning sites, record data, and along with the Marine Resources Section, set acoustic receivers at various locations to track Grouper movements.
July 2012 Bermuda Deep Cave Diving Expedition
The Foundation worked with and provided support to Dr Tom Iliffe, Principal Investigator and Director at the Marine Biospeleology Lab of Texas A&M University, on his second visit to Bermuda to explore caves in depths a much as 400 feet (121.92 meters) around Bermuda. Dr Iliffe brought an expedition to Bermuda last year that won the NOAA Project of the year for 2011.