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Key Largo to Host July 29 Lionfish Derby

KEY LARGO, Florida Keys — As part of its 2017 Lionfish Derby Series across Florida, Reef Environmental Education Foundation is to sponsor a one-day derby Saturday, July 29, at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, located at mile marker 102.5 in Key Largo.

Scuba and skin divers can participate to help preserve Keys reefs during a fun, competitive event to capture and remove as many non-native lionfish as possible from Keys waters.

The Key Largo-based REEF partners with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the dive community to provide hands-on opportunities to take action and remove lionfish, a voracious predator introduced to Florida waters during the 1980s.

Derby divers can vie for more than $3,500 in prize money. Teams with the largest captured catch are rewarded for the most lionfish, the largest and smallest.

Teams of up to four people can hunt from sunrise to 5 p.m., collecting lionfish by netting or spearing while on scuba, snorkeling or free diving. Participants can dive from a private vessel or with a professional dive operator.

The public is invited to watch Saturday's derby scoring and awards ceremony as well as lionfish filleting demonstrations. Other attractions include free tastings and a raffle set for 6 to 6:30 p.m.

Early registration fee is $120 and includes one pair of puncture-resistant gloves per team. Late team registration is open from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 28, followed by a mandatory participants meeting to cover lionfish ecology, their safe handling, collecting tools and techniques.

Event information: reef.org/2017UpperKeysDerby or 305-852-0030

Florida Keys diving: fla-keys.com/diving

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