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Written by Justin Hines

At the start of the 2013 season in Cuba, it became apparent that the lionfish invasion had reached the Isle of Youth. After a successful season of research an idea formed to allow students to obtain credit for work that they were already doing as part of the Cuba expedition. Finally, on the way to the airport for the 2015 season, I received an email from PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) that my proposed specialty, the Lionfish Research Diver Distinctive Specialty, had been approved for instruction.

Armed with this approval, and a comprehensive Distinctive Specialty outline, the 2015 season began in Cuba with our first group of Research Assistants completing their expedition with almost the entire group opting to complete the Lionfish Research Diver specialty. Halfway through the season and the course has proven popular with our General Surveyor groups as well.

The course entails an orientation dive (during their first week reef ecology course) to locate and understand the habitat that lionfish prefer to inhabit, and then concludes while they are on the live aboard research vessel from the University of Havana Centre for Marine Research (UH-CIM), the Felipe Poey. Whilst on board they learn about the history of the lionfish invasion, current theories on how the lionfish arrived in the Caribbean, their current distribution throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, anatomy and defensive mechanisms, impact on the ecosystem, and a detailed lesson on the data that is collected during the lionfish dissection. At the end of the course they have a much better understanding of the impact an invasive species can have on an ecosystem ill prepared for its arrival, and are able to assist our research team in their goal of trying to understand the impact of lionfish on the mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs of the Punta Frances Marine National Park.

If there are any PADI Instructors who would like to teach the course at their field sites in the Caribbean, please contact me at justin.hines@opwall.com for the course outline.

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