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Meet The Underwater Rapid Response Team That Wants To Stop Invasive Species Lurking In Our Seas

From left, REEF marine conservation interns Tom Hyduk and Emily Volkmann joined REEF's invasive species specialist Emily Stokes to remove a one spot rabbitfish from the water off Broward County.

When a diver who was also a volunteer for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation saw a fish that looked out of place in the waters off Dania Beach in October, she sent a photo to REEF, a marine conservation nonprofit based in Key Largo.

Credit Jennifer Weunschel
Diver and REEF volunteer Jennifer Wuenschel saw this fish at an artificial reef off Broward County and recognized it as being out of place. The next day, a rapid response team removed it from the water.

"The next morning, we were driving up to Dania Beach," said Emily Stokes, an invasive species specialist for the group. The fish was a one spot rabbitfish, native to the Pacific.

The underwater rapid response team, based at REEF and the U.S. Geological Survey, is aimed at stopping the next lionfish invasion before it gets established in Florida waters. Lionfish have spread throughout the Atlantic and Caribbean, areas where they have no natural predators. They eat native species and disrupt the food chain and balance of life on the reefs.

Stokes recently sat down with WLRN's Florida Keys reporter Nancy Klingener to talk about the rapid response team and its work. Hear the interview here:

If you're diving and see a fish that looks like it shouldn't be there, you can report it to REEF here. Stokes says it's especially helpful if you can get a photo of the fish.