Lionfish Hunter, Road Warrior

Lad Akins has taken the lead on combating the spread of the invasive lionfish.

Red lionfish have made Lad Akins a busy man.

As director of special projects for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), Akins has taken the lead on combating the spread of the invasive Indo-Pacific reef fish, which are now taking hold in the tropical Western Atlantic and Caribbean (see Alert Diver, July/August 2009).

During the past year alone, he visited eight Caribbean nations and lived on the road for more than 120 days conducting workshops and helping destinations develop effective response programs to protect native reef fish species. Much of his time is devoted to teaching dive pros and marine park managers the techniques for collecting and removing lionfish without getting stung by the animal's venomous barbs.

"Addressing the lionfish invasion is a daunting task, but one that presents us with opportunity," Akins said. "By working together and focusing our efforts, we have the opportunity to control the impact of lionfish in the Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean. Early detection and rapid response, outreach and awareness, removal and control strategies, and research to develop novel control efforts are all critical parts of our program."

Hailing from a rural community near Valdosta, Ga., Akins became a certified diver in 1982 and a dive instructor in 1986, working in the Florida Keys and North Carolina. In 1990, Akins helped found REEF and served as executive director for 16 years before stepping into the special projects role to devote more time to lionfish. During his tenure at REEF, Akins has received a NOAA Environmental Hero Award and was a member of the 2001 Aquarius Mission, spending eight days underwater in NOAA's Aquarius undersea habitat. He served as a delegate on the U.S./South Africa Binational Commission on Marine Protected Areas and was a submersible pilot during the Sustainable Seas Project with Sylvia Earle. Akins has led recreational divers on more than 100 REEF field trips throughout the Western Hemisphere, even discovering two new species of fish along the way.

Akins has also been a DAN Member since 1992. "Having DAN insurance is an absolute necessity with all of the travel and diving that I do," he says. "I wouldn't be caught without it."


Ned DeLoach photo
Age: 48
Hometown: Key Largo, Fla.
Years Diving: 28
Favorite Destination: "Wherever I am diving at the particular moment. I love it all."
Why I'm a DAN Member: "With all my travel and underwater work in demanding situations, it's important for me to know that DAN is there if I need them."


© Alert Diver — Spring 2010