While COVID-19 is still very much a focus for everyone, the world beneath our Florida waters moves to its own rhythms and cycles. The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) in Key Largo has been creative in adapting their programs to continue their primary mission in planning for an active Spring into Summer. “Our mission is to protect biodiversity and ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public through citizen science, education, and partnerships with the scientific community.”
Among their many efforts, they have been at the forefront of battling the invasive lionfish for more than a decade. When they added Lionfish Derbies back in 2009, they were able to combine effectiveness with fun as thousands of these voracious predators have been eliminated. The derbies are of such importance that the staff developed new protocols in September 2020 to manage a “socially distant” event. Although some of the traditional group gatherings were not possible, teams brought in more than 1,300 lionfish of all sizes. With the new procedures successful, plans were made for the Earth Day Lionfish Derby, April 23-25, 2021.
In their recent Press Release, “Teams of two to four people may register online. Derby registration is $75 per team through April 10, and $100/team through April 23. A mandatory Captains’ Meeting will be held virtually at 6:30pm on April 23. The meeting with cover lionfish ecology, safe collecting and handling techniques, permits, and regulations. An optional “Intro to Invasive Lionfish” webinar will take place at 5:30 p.m. The webinar is open to all participants, but those new to lionfish hunting are encouraged to attend.
Derby participants can hunt lionfish from sunrise to sunset on Saturday, April 24. Fishing is permitted throughout the waters of Monroe County, Florida only. Lionfish may be collected by netting or spearing while diving, snorkeling, or free diving; following all federal and state fishing regulations.
Participants can dive from a private vessel or with a dive operator.”
For full details, go to https://www.REEF.org/derby or call (305) 852-0030.
Another 2020 innovation was their first ever, REEF’s Fish Out of Water Virtual 5K, held during the period of September 28 - October 4, 2020. They had 497 participants from 37 states and 8 countries who ran, walked, biked, or hiked to complete more than 1,540 miles. With that kind of response, the staff set a goal for an annual Fish Out of Water Virtual 5K to coincide with World Oceans Day (June 8) each year. Registration is now open for the event to be from June 7-13, 2021, with participants once again choosing their preferred method (run, walk, bike, hike, swim) to complete the 5K (3.1 miles) at their own pace; in one day or over the course of the week.
“Fish Out of Water 5K participants will choose to join one of five ‘Fish Teams’. Each team represents an iconic fish species monitored by citizen scientists through REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project. Participants may report their 5K times if desired; after the race each team’s results will be shared. Those who wish to join as a group can form a “Fish Shoal” with friends and family.
Registration starts at $35 per person and will increase to $45 after April 30. Two registration packages are available. The Starting Line package includes a limited-edition shirt, finishers’ medal, and race bib. Those who choose to
upgrade to the Finish Line package will receive a shirt, medal, and bib, plus a retro fanny pack and sticker set. Registration is open until May 28. Supplies are limited, so early registration is highly encouraged. Fish Out of Water 5K proceeds support REEF’s ‘Oceans for All Fund’. This fund provides ocean-focused educational opportunities for underserved communities and those with financial need; allowing REEF to increase
inclusive programming for populations traditionally underrepresented in science, diving, and conservation.” For more information or to register online, visit www.REEF.org/5Krace.
And if that’s not enough to keep them busy, they will also be holding three sessions of Ocean Explorers Summer Camp. The Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. sessions for ages 8-13 are held at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. A world of adventure awaits young explorers and staff and interns will implement and ensure all campers and staff comply with COVID-19 protocols. Scheduled 2021 dates are June 14-18 (ages 8-10); June 28-July 2 (ages 11-13); and July 12-16 (ages 8-10). For more information and registration go to https://www.reef.org/explorers/summercamp