Title: Marine Station Manager
Association, Company, Affiliations: Tobacco Caye Marine Station
Location: Tobacco Caye, Belize
Your favorite quote: Lionfish are pirates of the Caribbean, lets capture, research, eat and wear them to defeat this invader.
Your message or mission statement: Tobacco Caye Marine Station was established in 2008 with the goal of bringing immersive learning about the Belize Barrier Reef to Belizean and international students. In 2019 Tobacco Caye Marine Station came under new management by James and Zara, they changed the mission to reflect more of a focus on education and research. This is where Tobacco Caye Marine Station first officially started researching invasive lionfish culled from around Tobacco Caye and the South Water Caye Marine Reserve. Our goal is to inspire the next generation of marine conservationists, through our research projects.
For our lionfish research project, we work with partners such as lionfish patrol and lionfish central to share our researched lionfish, as well as the Belize Fisheries Department. On snorkel and scuba diving excursions we bring our capture and contain equipment and all lionfish captured are then researched back at Tobacco Caye. We weigh, de-spine, measure, dissect and fillet each lionfish we catch. Tobacco Caye Marine Station also offers local fisherman a bounty to capture lionfish, we also run an annual tournament to coincide with our summer internship program. During our three lionfish tournaments we have removed 215, 287 and 393 lionfish all from just four teams participating in each tournament. Since the project started Tobacco Caye Marine Station has removed over 2,200 lionfish and found over 50 unique prey species inside their stomachs.
Your latest endeavors and where they take place: In our 2022 season Tobacco Caye Marine Station removed and researched 1,264 lionfish. We have successfully been able to increase lionfish captures by 150% in 2022 compared to 2019, 2020 and 2021 years combined. Our lionfish bounty opened on December 1st 2021 and this has seen fantastic involvement from a wide range of locals on Tobacco Caye, from lodges to guides to local residents participating and benefitting from TCMS’s $10BZD per lb of whole lionfish bounty! Throughout this season TCMS has paid out over $2,200 BZD in lionfish bounties. We were also ambitious and hosted not one but two lionfish tournaments, the 1st during our Spring Break internship (March 2022) – removing 287 lionfish over a one day event and the second during our Summer Internship (July 2022) – removing 393 lionfish over a two day event!
TCMS has also worked with partners such as Inspire Ed-ventures to host “lionfish live” a virtual learning program to share widely the destructive impact lionfish are having on our local marine ecosystem in Belize.
What efforts are you most proud of? Educating students, local residents, and tourist visitors about the invasive impact of lionfish by leading them through dissections to discover their venomous risk, gaping mouth capable of consuming prey up to half of their body length and discovering what prey species lionfish are predating upon.
TCMS is also very proud to have hosted Tobacco Caye’s only lionfish tournaments removing 895 lionfish all together.
Every day we are on the reef and prepared to catch lionfish with our lionator pole spear and zookeeper lionfish containment unit, we work to protect the Belize Barrier Reef and create new socio-economic benefits to removing lionfish through our bounty program, tournaments and partnership with Belioness to make lionfish jewelry.
Anything else you’d like us to know? Tobacco Caye Marine Station now runs lionfish expeditions, a 4 day 7 scuba diving program where we will cull as many invasive lionfish as possible and research each one and even take you through some delicious recipes so you can see that lionfish fillet is a versatile meat that has a nice white buttery texture, high in omega three and can be used in a wide variety of dishes, (our favorite is ceviche).