Following examples from the Caribbean, the RELIONMED project team has assembled a lionfish removal response mechanism (Removal Action Teams - RATs) formed by 100 motivated diver volunteers. RATs constitute the first line of defense against the lionfish invasion with a primary objective to remove lionfish from priority areas by working alongside RELIONMED’s researchers. RAT members have been selected based on their diving qualifications and their willingness/availability to help. It is worth mentioning that many of the selected members are well-experienced divers and diving instructors who can perform dives deeper than 60 m. As pole-spearing with the use of scuba gear is forbitten by law in Cyprus, a special permit was granted by the Department of Fisheries and Marine Research for this purpose, however, the permit is applicable for a 100 divers and only under the supervision by a member of the RELIONMED project. The permission is valid from sunrise to sundown and throughout the year.
Guided by concerned citizens, recreational divers, social media and the surveillance system the Removal Response Teams are/will be activated in circumstances of removing lionfish from new areas colonised or where the lionfish are most concentrated (hotspots). Response actions may include complete eradication from a small area (such as a wreck or a small reef), control over larger spatial scales to the level of Natura 2000 and MPAs, or no removal action at all. The RELIONMED’s scientific team aims to carry out lionfish removals at least twice a month, in addition opportunistic removals with smaller teams (3-4 divers) are/will be performed more frequently. Prior to every removal, RAT teams are/will be equipped with removal gear (slingshot, lionfish container and puncture-resistant gloves) and heat packs, in order to use it as a first-aid response.