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About 6 months ago, PBS NOVA reached out to Okaloosa’s Coastal Resource Team and expressed an interest in covering the local impacts of lionfish and what’s being done to control them off the Destin-Fort Walton Beach coast.
- After some preliminary conversations, the overall premise for the show shifted from just facing on lionfish, to include the artificial reefs deployments, the Emerald Coast Open, along with the fish surveys that take place here.
“This shoot ended up being quite a large production,” said Alex Fogg, Coastal Resource Manager for Okaloosa County. “They had 7-9 production people there, including the host, videographers, sound crew and the director.”
Three local vessels were also included in the shoot:
- Sea Cobra, operated by ScubaTech
- Shark Quest
- Vessel #2, operated by Captain Kyle Howard
On the morning of the shoot, the crew planned to dive three artificial reef sites, including the recently deployed BIG DAWG.
“The idea was for us to go down and see how that reef was doing and see what sort of marine life was hanging around,” explained Fogg. “We did some reef fish surveys, saw a Goliath grouper, and saw a large stingray.
Fogg says that after the dive, his team debriefed, talked about what they saw, and also taught the host of the show how to do the survey. They then moved on to the next artificial reef site, the CHEPANOC.
- The Chepanoc is a 129 foot vessel that was sunk 17 years ago.
- Although it is starting to degrade, it’s a very mature artificial reef site where the divers saw a lot more fish.
While at the CHEPANOC, the Department of State was in town demonstrating some of their survey methods on wrecks associated with the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail.
“This initiative was kicked off about 10 years ago and most recently was expanded to include an additional 6 reef sites here in Okaloosa County,” said Fogg.
The last reef site of the day was one of the public pyramid modules that had a bunch of lionfish on it.
“The purpose of that dive was to get the host in the water to lay eyes on what some of these small artificial reefs look like and how they can stack up with a lot of lionfish and have very high density,” said Fogg. “We then had some commercial spear fishermen in town that went down and harvested the lionfish very quickly.”
Cooking the lionfish at Dewey Destin’s
Once the crew arrived back in Destin, the all made their way to see Chef Jim Shirah at Dewey Destin’s on the Harbor. Chef Jim prepared a number of dishes for the crew along with everyone who was involved with the shoot.
“He was able to teach the host how to fillet a lionfish, and we talked everything lionfish, artificial reefs, and coastal resources here in Okaloosa,” added Fogg.
For Dewey Destin’s, they were more than happy to help with the education aspect…and the samplings.
“We are more than thrilled to offer lionfish at our restaurants,” said Parker Destin. “It is an important part of raising awareness, not only about the invasiveness of lionfish, but to also encourage consumers to ask for lionfish at restaurants.”
To Fogg’s knowledge, this is the first time that Destin-Fort Walton Beach has been featured in a PBS NOVA documentary.
“For Destin-Fort Walton Beach to be such a major feature of the documentary, it shows that what we’re doing here matters, and we’re starting to become a hub for a lot of these documentaries and interest stories,” he said. “PBS NOVA is the most-watched prime time science series on American television, reaching millions and millions of viewers.”
With all of the logistics that went into making the shoot happen, Fogg says that he’s thankful for the good weather that day.
“We had probably the best conditions that you could have asked for, especially being in March,” he said. “It was warm, the seas were flat, and the visibility under water was ideal for filming. The amount of life that we saw under water was outstanding.”
And all of this comes on the heels of deploying the Miss Joann tugboat the day before.
“Unfortunately, they weren’t able to make it out for that deployment,” he said. “I think that would’ve made a really nice touch but the good news is we were able to cover artificial reefs that we’ve deployed in the past.”
The PBS NOVA documentary is scheduled to air on October 12, 2022.
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