The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament 2023: Combating an Invasive Species Through Sport

The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament 2023: Combating an Invasive Species Through Sport

The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament May 20-21, 2023, at HarborWalk Village in Destin, FL, is gearing up to tackle a pressing ecological challenge while showcasing the power of sport to make a positive impact. This unique tournament, held along the picturesque shores of the Emerald Coast, focuses on combating the invasive lionfish population in the region’s waters.

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, have become a significant threat to the delicate balance of marine ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. With their voracious appetite and rapid reproduction, these invasive species pose a grave danger to native marine life. The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament aims to address this issue by encouraging divers and fishermen to actively hunt and remove lionfish from the waters.

Participants in the tournament will compete to catch the most lionfish, utilizing their skills in underwater navigation, spearfishing, and conservation. Sponsors provide cash and prizes for multiple categories including most caught, largest and smallest lionfish. The event provides an exciting platform for experienced divers and newcomers alike to contribute to the preservation of the marine environment.

Beyond the ecological significance, the tournament also offers a thrilling experience for both participants and spectators. Divers equipped with their spears dive into the depths, searching for lionfish while showcasing their prowess and bravery. The tournament fosters a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose among the participants, creating a community dedicated to the cause of protecting marine ecosystems.

In addition to the competitive aspect, the Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament promotes education and awareness about the invasive species. Participants and attendees have the opportunity to learn about the impact of lionfish on local marine life and explore sustainable solutions to combat the issue at the free Lionfish Awareness Festival from 10:00-5:00 each day. Sign up to volunteer at the event if you want to join the fun. The week prior to the tournament is dedicated to Lionfish restaurant week where local restaurants practice the “eat ‘um to beat ‘um” philosophy and cook up the tasty fish using a variety of innovative recipes. 

The Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament 2023 represents a unique fusion of sport, environmental conservation, and community engagement. By bringing together individuals passionate about marine conservation, this event serves as a powerful catalyst for change and a shining example of how sport can contribute to the preservation of our natural world.  Learn more at

A Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day festival volunteer sorts lionfish for weighing. (L. Tiu)

Written with assistance from ChatGPT

Late Spring is Time to Go Cogongrass Hunting

Late Spring is Time to Go Cogongrass Hunting

Donn Shilling and Eldridge Wynn look over a research field of cogongrass, which has become a problem for cattle ranchers.

Cogongrass is one of our larger invasive species here in the Panhandle, and spring is a good time to detect and treat it. If you know or suspect your property may have cogongrass, spring is the best time to hunt it down and locate the spots and infested areas. It is also a great time to patrol your property boundaries as well to see if you have any that may be coming onto your property from a neighbor or right of way. Cogongrass seems to love fencerows and right of ways as it spreads easily on equipment through its tough rhizomes. One of the best ways to prevent large infestations from taking over portions of your property and creating a significant control cost is to catch it early. The key to this is to identify and mark small spots before they expand; and then follow up with herbicide treatment once to twice a year. Spring is an excellent time to go and scout for cogongrass and get a jump on this invasive for several reasons.

A relatively new patch of cogongrass recently found in Washington County. Photo Credit: Mark Mauldin

One feature of cogongrass that is very distinctive is the seed head. In spring cogongrass flowers and puts up a cottony white seed head. These seed heads look like an elongated fluffy white tuft on a tall stalk. Once you have seen them for the first time you will instantly recognize this invasive grass. If cogongrass has been mowed, it can sometimes be hard to spot especially in a pasture. In spring the seed heads will quickly draw your attention to an area infested with this grass. It is very distinctive, and you do not see other grasses with this type of seed head the same time of year.

Other distinguishing features of cogongrass include a bright green color sometimes with red edges. In the spring the new growth of cogongrass is very prominent and stands out due to its bright color and usually faster growth compared to other grasses. The midrib of the grass blade is also usually offset to one side, another identifying feature. If you have a shovel handy you can dig up a small amount and you will notice thick rhizomes with sharp pointed tips. Once you learn to identify cogongrass and know what you are looking for; you can go out on your spring cogongrass patrol to identify any areas of infestation.

Cogongrass shown here with seedheads – more typically seen in the spring. If you suspect you have cogongrass in or around your food plots please consult your UF/IFAS Extension Agent how control options. Photo credit: Mark Mauldin

Once you have identified an infestation you need to do three things: mark the impacted area with a flag or other noticeable method, record the location (by description or GPS), and develop a treatment plan. Marking and recording the location of cogongrass infestations, especially a small spot that is new, is critical to the success of control efforts. Cogongrass is tough and requires multiple treatments with herbicide to effectively control it and hopefully eliminate the infestation. This means you need to know where a patch is, be able to relocate and monitor it, and consistently treat the same spot to ensure you achieved complete control. Cogongrass control is easier when the spot is small and has not become well established. With small spots it can be difficult to locate the spot again the next year, especially after a round of herbicide treatment, so good marking combined with a GPS location or description is essential. Once you have gone back to a spot several years and the spot has not come back after treatment; you can consider the spot controlled. If you stop treatment and monitoring before cogongrass has been controlled for several years, the infestation will return from remaining rhizomes and spread all over again.

Consistent treatment with effective herbicides is the best way to ensure cogongrass is controlled on your property. If you locate some while scouting this spring be prepared to start a treatment program. Cogongrass responds to herbicides with the active ingredients glyphosate or imazapyr. These can be used alone or in combination. The spring and fall are the two treatment windows that are most effective. If you treat in the early spring when new growth is vulnerable you can sometimes prevent seed heads from maturing. You can also get some control that can help prevent heavy growth over the summer, which can be an advantage if you have to mow or maintain the area. Spring treatment is usually best accomplished with glyphosate alone, imazapyr alone or a mixture of both can be used.

Once we progress into summer, treatments with herbicide will mostly top kill the grass and do not provide effective control. Treatment in the fall with imazapyr alone or in combination is the most effective treatment method. If you identify infestations in the spring you can mark them and come back in the fall to get the most bang for your buck with treatments. You can apply a spring and fall treatment in one year if you want to accomplish some control in the spring, but this method is not necessarily more effective than the fall treatment alone. When using imazapyr herbicide you should be aware that this is soil active and has the potential to damage surrounding vegetation and hardwood trees that are in and near the treatment area. Pines are tolerant of imazapyr but can be damaged if high rates are used, and longleaf pine is more sensitive than others. When treating cogongrass with imazapyr be aware that damage to other vegetation could occur. If the cogongrass is in an area with hardwood trees or other sensitive vegetation glyphosate alone is a good alternative herbicide treatment. When using any herbicide be sure to read and follow the label correctly, follow all label directions, and wear proper protective equipment. There are several IFAS EDIS publications on cogongrass control which provide more detailed information: for control in pasture areas follow this link SS-AGR-52/WG202: Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica) Biology, Ecology, and Management in Florida Grazing Lands ( and for control in forested areas follow this link FR342/FR411: Biology and Control of Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica) in Southern Forests ( . If you identify cogongrass on your property these publications will help you develop a treatment plan to control it. Early detection and treatment when infestations are small is key to getting this nasty invasive under control. Take advantage of this spring to identify, mark, and treat any cogongrass that may be getting a foothold on your property before it becomes a major infestation.

It’s Time to Remove Invasive Beach Vitex

It’s Time to Remove Invasive Beach Vitex

During the spring and early summer beach vitex is not in seed and this is a good time to remove this invasive plant from your property.  This time of year, the leaves have their unique blueish-green coloration, allowing them to stand out from other plants on your lawn, and soon will also have their lavender flowers.  It will appear as a series of vines running across the surface of the sand extending from a central taproot. 

Beach vitex expands it’s woody rhizomes aggressively; it can actually grow over sidewalks. Photo: Rick O’Connor

To remove it you begin at the end of the vine away from this central point and slowly, carefully pull it from the sand, cutting it into two-foot sections to make it easier to bag.  The vine may have smaller secondary roots extending from it that you have to carefully remove as well.  If you are lucky, and the plant is relatively small, you may be able to pull all of the vines and the taproot with no tools.  But if the plant is more established, the texture of the vine may become more woody and you will need to use loppers (or clippers) to remove it.  The same is the case with the taproot, you may have to use a shovel to get it completely out.  If you cannot remove all of the taproot, you may have to spray the remaining section with an herbicide.  All cuttings should be double bagged before disposing to reduce the chance of spreading by fragmentation. 

Beach vitex (Vitex rotundifolia) was brought to the United States from Asia in the 1950s as an ornamental plant.  In the 1980s the states of North and South Carolina used in dune restoration where it exposed its invasiveness.  The plant quickly spread, killing off native vegetation, such as sea oats, and forming dense monocultures on the dune.  As the plant matures it becomes more of a woody shrub and much more difficult to remove.  The shrub blocks sunlight not allowing the germination of other plants and the vines can extended onto the beach impacting sea turtle nesting.  We are not sure at this time how it may impact the beach mice found in Florida. 

We are not sure when it was first introduced to Pensacola Beach, but it was first found in 2014.  Since then, Florida Sea Grant has been able to identify 2 sites in Gulf Breeze, 1 at Ft. Pickens, 24 in Naval Live Oaks, and 57 sites on Pensacola Beach where the plant exists (or did exist).  One Pensacola Beach, 54 of the 57 sites are east of Casino Beach.  22 of the 57 sites are on public lands, and with permission from the Santa Rosa Island Authority, Florida Sea Grant uses local volunteers to manage those.  However, 35 are on private property and we hope those homeowners will take the initiative to remove the plant to help stop its spread. 

If you have questions on identification or methods of management, contact Rick O’Connor at the Escambia County Extension Office –, (850-475-5230 ext.1111). 

Help us eradicate this plant from the island. 

NISAW 2023: Final Wrap Up

NISAW 2023: Final Wrap Up

Over the course of the last week, we have been discussing invasive species issues from across the panhandle.  The primary purpose was to provide information for local decision makers to develop management plans for these species.  The second was to educate the local residents about which species are the largest concerns in their counties so that they too could help with management. 

Cogongrass (Ray Bodrey)

Three species came up more than once: lionfish, feral hogs, and cogongrass.  All three of these present large problems for the panhandle and all three are well established – party of the “dirty dozen”.  In each case eradication is probably not an option.  But as Ian Stone’s article from Walton County on cogongrass shows, a well thought out plan with buy in from everyone can make a difference on how bad of an impact they will have.  Georgia was able to significantly reduce the impact of this grass with their comprehensive plan.  The 2018 Lionfish Workshop in Ft. Walton Beach also showed that a team effort across the panhandle has helped manage that problem.  Though we did not hear from Chinese Tallow, Chinese Privet, or Japanese Climbing Fern, similar efforts can go along way to reducing their impacts as well. 

Cuban Treefrog Photo: UF IFAS

We also learned about “new kids on the block” with Giant Salvinia and Cuban Treefrogs.  Depending on how widespread these species are currently, eradication is possible.  What it will take is an Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR) approach.  To be successful at this local decision makers and residents will need to know:

  1. Which species are potential threats to their counties. 
  2. How are those species transmitted.
  3. How are they managed.
  4. How many do you currently have in your county.

At this point the community can develop a plan to eradicate what you have and keep anymore from entering.  You can find answers to these questions at your county extension office, your local CISMA website, and the EDDMapS website. 

Again, with a team effort, we should be able to manage invasive species in the panhandle and reduce their impacts.  As always, you can contact your county extension office for more information on invasive species issues in your area. 

Florida CISMAs
NISAW: Working Across Boundary Lines: Because Invasive Species Do Not Recognize Your Posted Sign

NISAW: Working Across Boundary Lines: Because Invasive Species Do Not Recognize Your Posted Sign

Ken Langeland, left, and Martha Monroe, University of Florida environmental educators, examine an invasive tallow tree on Paynes Prairie near Gainesville, Thursday 10-19. They’re part of a team of researchers from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and The Nature Conservancy training people how to manage environmentally sensitive lands. With more than 11-million acres of protected land, Florida needs more trained people to help protect those environmental jewels.

It is National Invasive Species Week, a time where everyone involved in natural resources, agriculture, and related fields works to raise awareness about this issue. It is an issue that costs huge sums of money to control and address, impacts economic sectors, and requires constant inspections at ports of entry to prevent new invasives from expanding the problem. Unfortunately for us, invasive species do not recognize international borders or state and local boarders for that matter. The same is true about property boundaries, which makes controlling them on the landscape difficult. They do not politely stop at the property line. So, what are we to do about the infestation when it crosses a boundary?

In Florida there is no law that requires someone to treat or remove an invasive species from the landscape. Laws do exist that prohibit the importation of species and that prohibit propagation and planting of know invasive species. Cost share programs, grants, and other efforts exist to assist private property owners and public land managers with invasive control programs and encourage the control and eradication of invasives across Florida’s landscape. Across Florida, organizations called Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMA’s) exist to help coordinate efforts and provide educational outreach. The CISMA that covers Walton and the surrounding counties is the Six Rivers CISMA, and this outstanding organization even crosses state boundaries to include adjoining Alabama counties. This cross-state collaboration is an outstanding example of working across boundaries to accomplish a common goal. You can learn about the Six River CISMA and it’s efforts to  invasive species through their website (LOCAL PRIVATE LANDS ASSISTANCE – Six Rivers Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area ( ). Our outstanding University of Florida IFAS extension service provides research and education across the state to help inform control efforts and coordinate through a network of experts from research professionals to local county extension agents. All of these efforts are making great progress in the control and management of invasive species.

One issue still stands out as a major challenge in taking on invasives, and that is that the ability to do control stops at a property line. This is especially true for some of our worst invasives like cogongrass, Japanese climbing fern, Chinese privet, and tallow tree; just to name a few. While animals move and you can trap or remove them as they come across your property; plants stay in place and often spread in an area. If that area happens to be right along a boundary, something like a fence row, the infestation often spreads across the property line. Add to that the fact invasive species, because of the disturbance and vegetation changes, often thrive and colonize in areas like fence rows and you have a major issue. That plant doesn’t see that posted sign and the property owner must stop any treatment effort at that point. Legally a landowner cannot cross a property line, and is liable for doing so especially when mowing, burning, or spraying herbicides. Putting herbicide on a neighboring property, even if it was accidental drift, is a major no go and can land the two parties in court. At best in this situation a property owner has a good relationship with neighbors and can work something out to control the infestation. If not, the treatment must stop where the ownership stops.

Why is it a problem that a treatment stops at the property boundary? Well, cogongrass is a great example. Cogongrass is a major problem in Walton County, and across the Panhandle in general. The western panhandle and southern Alabama are considered the epicenter of this invasive, and in Walton County it is spreading like wildfire. That’s somewhat literal too as this invasive grass massively increases fire intensity and spreads. My fellow extension agent from Gulf County,  Ray Bodrey, just wrote a great article about this grass and the issues it is causing. I won’t duplicate his effort and expound on how to identify it. You can see his article here NISAW: A Spreading Menace in Gulf County, known as Cogongrass | Panhandle Outdoors ( Needless to say, if two county agents list it as one of the top issues, then we need to focus on it.

This grass spreads rapidly and easily, especially along roadsides, right of ways, and fencerows. You might wonder why that is? Well it happens to love to hitch a ride on equipment or move in contaminated fill dirt. Add to that it is tough to kill and takes multiple years of herbicide treatment to do the trick; and you have what has been identified as the Gulf Coast’s worst invasive. In fact, it is usually listed as one of the worst invasive species worldwide. Tack all that together and throw the fact that you cannot always work across a boundary and you’ve got quite the intractable issue. And that is just our top offender, we still haven’t touched tallow tree and the other of Six River CISMA’s “Dirty Dozen”.

What can be done then if invasives are such a herculean task that requires cross boundary management? We have several options, many of which I mentioned earlier in the article. Lots of work is being done right now by everyone from private landowners to local governments and even at the federal level. Here in Walton County the local public works has an active program to report and control cogongrass in the roadway and other county right of ways. They use in house and contract teams to report, track, and treat cogongrass infestations. This is a great effort and shows a great proactivity on the part of the county government. The program will go a long way in the congongrass control effort, but it still must stop at the right of way. If the infestation goes onto private property, it is then on the private property owner to have a control plan. Without some good communication the property owner may not even realize the problem is there.

Cogongrass is a good example of why it pays for a private landowner to treat an infestation too. This grass has no forage value and chokes out any other crops, lowering agricultural yields and values. It ruins yards, turf grass, and golf courses along with dulling and damaging mowing equipment. It contaminates fill dirt and borrow pits and then spreads to areas as development and construction occurs. If you are in the fill dirt business, clients that know usually reject soil that is contaminated or could be contaminated with cogongrass rhizomes. Forest landowners suffer major impacts from this invasive grass as it makes reforestation next to impossible, increases wildfire risk, makes using prescribed fire difficult at best, reduces timber yields, and ruins the habitat value for wildlife. An unchecked cogongrass infestation can ruin land values and it will do that as it spreads across onto other property.

 This loss of land value is not just conjecture either.  An article published in the Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics from research performed by scientists from the University of Florida and the University of New York found that cogongrass infestations in slash pine forests reduce the return on investment and the land value. The study (Alavalapati et al 2007) looked at the impact of cogongrass infestation on rates of return and land values in several situations: no threat of infestation, infestation uncertain with no management, infestation uncertain with treatment by one landowner, and infestation uncertain with treatment by all landowners. The study found that cogongrass negatively impacts rental rates and the land value. To assess the land value, they used a forestry measurement called the Land Expectancy Value, which is a formula that uses the expected productivity of the land, input costs, and expected timber value to determine how valuable timberland is. The study found that the land value can be decreased by up to 50% on timberland.  The study also found that the annual net returns per acre are decreased by between $17.00 and $25.00 depending on the infestation and management scenarios. Those are big economic and land value impacts, and that is just for forested lands. The big finding was that the scenario that resulted in the biggest loss of land value and returns was when only one landowner was treating. Alavalapati et al 2007 found that when control measures are undertaken by all landowners in an infestation zone the impacts are lowest and the most value is preserved. They suggest that the study results show the best outcomes will be when collaborative efforts are used. While the study only looked at cogongrass, the methodology and results are applicable to other invasive species. Working across that property line has real economic benefits as well as all the ecological and landscape benefits that come from invasive species control.

Donn Shilling and Eldridge Wynn look over a research field of cogongrass, which has become a problem for cattle ranchers.

Practical experience shows that this collaborative approach works as well. Since 2004 the Georgia Forestry Commission and the State of Georgia have implemented a cogongrass task force. Georgia recognized the severity of the issue early on, to some degree from seeing what was occurring in Florida and Alabama. They also recognized the state could not completely prevent cogongrass from entering the state but could be proactive at control and eradication. They launched a collaborative effort lead by the Georgia Forestry Commission, where landowners and others would report congongrass and the infestation would be identified and treated at no cost to the landowner. The program was structured where they could work with other landowners at an infestation site as well. The program also implemented a tracking and follow up program, which tracked the infestation until it was eradicated or became inactive. In 2007, 72 Georgia counties had detections, but as of 2021, 34 of those 72 have no active cogongrass and 85% of all known cogongrass spots in Georgia are inactive (2021-Dirty-Dozen-List.pdf ( That is a huge success and something that can be replicated in other states. This program took federal and state funding, state and local government involvement, coordinated tracking, and reporting and detection from landowners. It could not have happened without this collaborative effort that reached across boundaries.

Could we see something like this in Walton County or across the Panhandle? Absolutely, we could definitely build a collaborative effort on one or more invasives. Cogongrass is a great place to start, and even though it is so difficult to eradicate we have evidence that a program can be successful. What it takes is reaching across boundaries and the “Think Global, Act Local” approach, or as the Florida Invasive Species Partnership puts it “Think Locally, Act Neighborly”. Florida does not have a statewide coordinated cogongrass control effort like Georgia, but the nature of the issue in Florida is very different. Given the size and scope, a Florida eradication program would likely look much different. But why wait for a statewide program like Georgia? It would be much easier to replicate a cooperative program on invasive species at the county level. It will take working across boundaries and communicating across communities and ownerships; but we know it works. The bottom line is that inaction will result in a growing and extending problem, spreading across more and more ownerships and areas. Invasives are not just an ecological or environmental problem either, they impact land values and our economy too. The information we have shows that when control efforts are sporadic and individual; economic impacts are actually higher because landowners controlling the invasive incur costs while infestations persist in an area. To keep our land base productive and valuable we have to work together and take community efforts. This is everything from identifying and tracking infestations to control and monitoring. If it can work with cogongrass, it will work with the other major invasives as well. Most of our greatest achievements as Americans, things like making it through the Great Depression, building the Transcontinental Railroad, or winning World War II, have been through collaborative efforts. Invasive species control is going to be the same thing, and research and results on cogongrass show reaching across boundaries works. Invasives move across boundary lines; so we need to work across them to be successful. A collaborative cogongrass effort would be a great start, and then we can expand.

References and Resources

Alavalapati, J. R. R., Jose, S., Stainback, G. A., Matta, J. R., & Carter, D. R. (2007). Economics of Cogongrass Control in Slash Pine Forests. Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics39(s1), 61–68.

Georgia Forestry Commission: Invasive Plant Control Program

Georgia Forestry Commission 2021 Dirty Dozen List 2021-Dirty-Dozen-List.pdf (

Six Rivers CISMA Webpage Home – Six Rivers Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area ( Florida Invasive Species Partnership Home – Florida Invasive Species Partnership

NISAW: A Spreading Menace in Gulf County, known as Cogongrass

NISAW: A Spreading Menace in Gulf County, known as Cogongrass

Ray Bodrey, Gulf County Extension Director

Cogongrass continues to be a thorn in the side of many landowners and municipal public works departments, as it spreads in areas across the Panhandle, with Gulf County being no exception. Thankfully, there are ways to combat cogongrass, but it seems to be an uphill battle. Identifying and being persistent with treatment are paramount in control.

Figure 1: Cogongrass infestation and uneven mid-rib in leaf blade.

Credit: Ray Bodrey, UF/IFAS Extension Gulf County.

Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica) is found all over the world. In the U.S, it is primarily found in the southeast. Cogongrass was purposely introduced as a soil stabilizer for pasture lands in Florida during the 1930’s and 1940’s. It wasn’t long before ranchers and agricultural scientists realized that cogongrass was an invasive species. Once established, cogongrass has the ability to overrun pastures and natural areas to the point that it will be the only plant species occupant. It’s a perennial grass with a vast, ever expanding root system. This grass can grow in any soil type and low soil fertility nor drought, are concerns either. Therefore, it thrives no matter how poor the soil environment. Even with multiple days of periods of well below freezing temperatures and a prior application of herbicide, figures 1 & 2 display the resiliency of cogongrass. The major concern is the ability to eliminate native plant habitat.

Cogongrass can be confused with other grasses, like switchgrass. This is especially possible early in the year before the bloom. To identify cogongrass, first investigate the growing pattern. It usually infiltrates an area in patches. As shown in figure 1, the grass blades are flat and have a defining white mid-rib. Blades are finely serrated, yellow to green in color and are uneven in width on each side of the mid-rib. The seed head is fluffy, white and feather shaped. The seed head can alarmingly yield 3,000 seeds per head.

Figure 2: Cogongrass spreading.

Credit: Ray Bodrey, UF/IFAS Extension Gulf County.

The management strategy most successful with eradicating cogongrass consists of multiple types of herbicides sprayed over multiple year applications, with additional spot treatments. Prescribe burning can also be used in concert as an integrated approach.

For control measures, see the tables in the document referenced below. Also, contact your local county extension agent for further details.

Information for this article is from the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: “Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica) Biology, Ecology, and

Management in Florida Grazing Lands” by B. A. Sellers, J. A. Ferrell, G. E. MacDonald, K. A. Langeland, and S. L. Flory:

UF/IFAS Extension, An Equal Opportunity Institution.