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Merging Scuba Diving With Science

In 2013, Dr. Michelle Johnston had the idea to invite scientists and spearfishing scuba divers out to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary for a four day long lionfish-removal research cruise. This unique collaboration between researchers and hunters happens on a liveaboard vessel 110 miles offshore, and has resulted in thousands of lionfish being removed from the Sanctuary, their carcasses frozen and dissected to provide scientists with data that is made available for various research projects. Researchers from Texas A&M University at Galveston are conducting a study to evaluate habitat use and competition between small bodied native and invasive predators on the reefs of FGBNMS. To do this, divers are surgically placing acoustic tags inside of grouper, snapper, and lionfish, that will allow the fish to be tracked around the reef. During the Lionfish Invitational divers can opt to help collect a small subset of lionfish for tagging and help us gain a better understanding of how these invasive species are using habitat and  competing with our native fish. We have 3 trips scheduled for 2024, and we invite you to bring your enthusiasm for diving to our team!

Image by Paxton Tomko

Eligibility Requirements

In order to apply, each diver must meet the following requirements:

- Be at least 21 years of age.
- Be able to swim confidently.
- Hold a valid certification of advanced open water scuba diving or higher.
- Be Nitrox certified.
- Have completed at least 25 dives within the past 12 months or provide the total number of dives since becoming a diver.
- Have DAN or other dive-specific insurance.


Please ensure that you meet all of these requirements before applying.

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Participation Benefits

During the 3-day research cruise at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary on board the M/V Fling, participants will have the opportunity to learn about invasive lionfish, research, and field techniques through a REEF lionfish collecting and handling course. They will also build relationships with peers, Flower Garden Banks staff, partners, and divers from the local community. The program includes field activities that raise awareness of invasive lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico and ocean conservation. Participants will gain hands-on experience that can be utilized in future lionfish control efforts throughout the region. Additionally, they will assist with marine sanctuary resource protection efforts.

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Provided to All Divers

All divers who participate in the program will receive the following benefits:

• Three days of diving, which includes Nitrox.
• Meals and dorm-style liveaboard accommodations.
• Workshop training on lionfish collecting and handling.
• Access to lionfish collecting/handling and fish survey equipment and materials.
• On-board, hands-on training in data gathering.
• Educational resources and materials from FGBNMS.

In 2023, the Tennessee Aquarium partnered with Lionfish Invitational to send two of their aquarists out to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Kimberly Hurt and Kyle McPheeters made this video to share with their aquarium supporters about their trip exploring the natural setting that the Tennesee Aquarium’s Secret Reef Tanks design is based upon.

The recently expanded Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, located off the coast of Texas and Louisiana, provides a variety of habitats for many fish species. How do fishes use these habitats, and how are fish populations connected across the ecosystem? A team of researchers led by Dr. Jay Rooker at Texas A&M University at Galveston is using sophisticated tracking techniques to investigate these questions.

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