NAUI Dive Spotlight: Alex Fogg and the Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament

NAUI is a proud sponsor of the Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament in Destin, Florida, taking place on May 17th-18th 2024. This dynamic event combines community, marine conservation, and some friendly competition. This month’s NAUI Dive Spotlight is on Alex Fogg, the Coastal Resource Manager for Destin-Fort Walton Beach and a passionate marine biologist, who has been at the forefront of this innovative tournament and conservation effort.


Alex Fogg: The Force Behind the Tournament

With nearly eight years of dedication to the local marine ecosystem, Alex has seen the team grow from a solo endeavor to a dynamic group, actively extending their conservation efforts beyond the ocean and making their impact on land as well. But it’s underwater where Alex’s work with lionfish created a huge impact!



Lionfish, an invasive species in the Gulf of Mexico, have been a growing concern since their introduction in the mid-1980’s in South East Florida, only being detected in 2010. Alex turned his master’s thesis into action by examining the lionfish invasion’s impacts. But to do that, he needed to collect lionfish to examine and study to better understand them.Alex figured out that we could get a lot of people to help his research and the environment by making it a competition -leading to the creation of what is now known today as the Emerald Coast Open! 



Since its launch, divers have traveled from various places to compete and have removed tens of thousands of lionfish from local waters. This is great news for the reef and native species since lionfish compete with native species for resources and have a large appetite that disrupts the ecological balance of the reefs. Organizing this event before the peak fishing season allows the reef ecosystem a chance to rejuvenate.


Impact and Achievements of the Tournament

In 2023, there was a total of 144 tournament participants who removed a total 24,699 lionfish. Every dollar and prize donated goes directly to those divers who are on the front lines of lionfish removal. Alex emphasizes the unique nature of this event – rather than retaining a portion for operations, all proceeds are invested in the divers’ efforts, thanks to the complete logistics funding by Destin-Fort Walton Beach.

Alex’s most memorable moment? The 2019 tournament in Destin. The community turnout was unprecedented, the weather was perfect, and the result was an unbelievable catch of 19,167 lionfish. It’s proof of the community’s commitment and eagerness to participate in events to support marine conservation.

If you’re new to diving or want to give catching lionfish a try, Alex says go for it. He notes that lionfish are easier to catch than most fish because they have no predators and they’re lazy, meaning they don’t swim away fast. It’s like a fun underwater game that helps the ocean, and it’s a way for divers to contribute to marine conservation while developing their skills.


Community Engagement and Future Prospects

The best part? This tournament isn’t just about removing lionfish, it’s good for the local community as well! People come to Destin from all over, giving a boost to the local businesses. Plus, the lionfish they catch? Turns out they taste great! Local restaurants even participate in “Restaurant Week,” where chefs prepare lionfish in a variety of ways, all while bringing awareness to the lionfish invasion and how eating them is one of the best ways to control the population.


Alex Fogg, with his unwavering dedication to marine biology and ecological conservation, unknowingly created this event that NAUI is proud to be a part of. The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament stands as a shining example of how divers can make a significant difference in the health of our oceans.


This year, the Emerald Coast Open Join NAUI in celebrating the triumphs of Alex Fogg and the divers of the Emerald Coast Open. Also, make sure to follow @EmeraldCoastOpen and @DestinFWB on social media for more details and updates! Here’s to the removal of lionfish, one dive at a time, and to the continued success of this essential conservation event!