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Destin-Fort Walton Beach to host the annual Emerald Coast Open

Destin, Florida – The waters of the Gulf of Mexico will buzz with activity from May 17-19, 2024, as divers from across the nation gather for the Emerald Coast Open in Destin-Fort Walton Beach. This event, noted as the world’s largest lionfish tournament, combines sport with environmental conservation efforts aimed at controlling the invasive lionfish population.

A Battle Beneath the Waves

Divers participating in the Emerald Coast Open will have from sunrise to sunset to harvest lionfish, competing in various categories, including the most, largest, and smallest caught. With over 100 divers expected to join the fray, the tournament not only promises fierce competition but also significant ecological benefits.

Paul Mixon, Chairman of the Okaloosa County Board, expressed his pride in the local community’s engagement with the event. “This is a great example of how the local diving and coastal business community comes together to create a festive atmosphere, while also removing this invasive species and educating the public about our local ecosystem,” Mixon stated. The Coastal Resources team within the Tourism Department has been instrumental in organizing this event, ensuring it remains a free, premier event for both locals and visitors.

In 2023, the tournament saw a record-breaking turnout of 144 divers who removed an astonishing 24,699 lionfish from the waters. The event also distributed $95,000 in cash and gear to the winners, highlighting the growing success and impact of this annual endeavor.

Read also: Okaloosa County to host Hurricane Preparedness Expo

More Than Just a Tournament

The Emerald Coast Open extends beyond the competition. It is a comprehensive event that includes a pre-tournament phase, Restaurant Week, and the Lionfish Festival. During Restaurant Week, local chefs showcase their culinary skills by preparing unique dishes using lionfish. These dishes are judged, and the best chef is crowned at the week’s end.

The Lionfish Festival, held along HarborWalk, features a variety of vendors and activities suitable for families and children, making it a perfect blend of fun and educational experiences. Alex Fogg, Okaloosa County Coastal Resource Manager, emphasized the collaborative effort required for the event’s success. “The success of this event cannot happen without all of the sponsors, divers, and volunteers who work together to not only help mitigate the population of this species but also bring awareness to the public with a fun event in beautiful Destin-Fort Walton Beach,” said Fogg.

The Emerald Coast Open not only offers an exciting competition for diving enthusiasts but also plays a crucial role in marine conservation, tackling the invasive lionfish that threaten local marine biodiversity.

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