Yep… I stole that line from Robert Turpin. He is well known for his ability to come up with great titles. What we are referring to here is the invasion of lionfish into Pensacola Bay. It has been well known over the last decade that we have had lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico, but there have been few verified records inside Pensacola Bay. We can now say they are in Pensacola Bay.
The first we knew about this was in 2019 when a local fishermen caught one off the fishing pier at Ft. Pickens. Multiple dives by many individuals confirmed that yes lionfish were present. We began working with a local non-profit who specializes in citizen science work using SCUBA – The Ocean Strike Team. The Team conducted several dives at the Ft. Pickens following pre-set transect lines and found lionfish, they also had permission from the National Park to remove them – and they did.
On September 24 the 3rd Coast Dive Club partnered with the National Park and Ocean Hour to clean up around the fishing pier. Ocean Hour collected debris on the beaches, 3rd Coast collected under the fishing pier. Florida Sea Grant was there to get a lionfish head count from each of the divers. 25 divers participated. Seven teams reported seeing lionfish. Two of those were small fish (less than 5 inches), two were mid-sized (between 5-6 inches), and three were large (larger than 6 inches). It is possible that the divers may have seen, and counted, the same fish multiple times but the size difference suggests that there were at least three under the fishing pier.
Later this year the Ocean Strike Team will be conducting search and removal surveys at this location. If you are a certified diver and interested in volunteering, contact Rick O’Connor at the Escambia County Extension office and we will get you on the list. (850-475-5230 ext.1111, firstname.lastname@example.org).