Lionfish Experts Coming to Antigua


Press Release: Antigua is preparing to host international scientists, conservationists and celebrities at the first Antigua Open Lionfish Tournament Nov 18-20th, capped with a festival in Nelson’s Dockyard on Nov 20th from 1:00 pm until 5:00 pm. A diverse group of experts make up what the group’s organizer Martha Watkins Gilkes, calls her “A-Team.”

The team’s spokesperson and outreach lead is Mehgan Heaney-Grier, a pioneer and record-breaking freediver, media personality, and explorer.  Mehgan grew up in the Florida Keys, and at just 19 years old blazed a trail for freediving in the U.S. by establishing the first U.S. record for both men and women in the constant weight category with a dive to 155ft.

The tales of her exploits spread quickly – an American teenager and professional model doing what were considered at the time to be “daredevil stunts”, and in a male dominated extreme sport.  It made for catchy headlines. Mehgan has been featured in major media outlets including USA Today, Life, People, and Outside Magazine, to name just a few. With her record dives she catapulted her sport to new heights, not only setting records, but pushing boundaries and breaking through stereotypes – one of her proudest accomplishments.

Since then, she has done what most only dream of – stunt diving in movies that included Pirates of the Caribbean, appearing as a guest on Late Night with David Letterman, graced the cover of magazines and starred on the Discovery show Treasure Quest: Snake Island.  She was also honored as an inaugural inductee of the Women Divers Hall of Fame – still the youngest person ever inducted into the organization – and is a Fellow in the prestigious Explorers Club.

Mehgan’s work in ocean conservation started with expeditions that featured her in close encounters with dangerous animals.  In 2000, people around the world watched her freedive with alligators and sharks on an Animal Planet series called Extreme Contact. But while revealing our misconceptions about these animals, she was also a keen observer of the disturbing declines in the condition of oceans around the world, including her home reefs in the Florida Keys.

She became dedicated to motivating people to take action. Now she lectures, educates, and creates content for social media and television. One current project, a web video series called The Imperfect Conservationist, empowers people to live more sustainably with easy, affordable, and impactful tips they can incorporate into their daily lives.

For the Lionfish Derby Project, Mehgan brings her conservation talents to Antigua, as part of Martha’s A-Team.

“Our team was built by Martha’s boundless energy and enthusiasm, and we’re here to do our small part in helping motivate people to take action to control an invasive species that could decimate the island’s lifeblood, its coral reefs.”

“We have scientists and conservation professionals who are experts in lionfish biology and ecology, some of the best hunters you can find, a social networking team, and people who have started small businesses around lionfish, including some jewelry makers who use caught fish to produce beautiful artwork, adding value to lionfish for the fishers who catch them.”

During the festival, Mehgan will be discussing her exciting and eclectic career, which has taken her from freediving and modeling to movies and television, and evolved into education, outreach, social media, and motivational speaking. Through it all, her messages on conservation and ways that individuals can make a difference have inspired hordes of followers and fans young and old.

You can meet Mehgan at the festival on November 20, and listen to her speak at 2:40 at Nelson’s Dockyard.

The Antigua Open Lionfish Tournament is made possible by the generous support of the Ministry of Tourism and the Honorable Minister Max Fernandez, Mill Reef Club as a platinum sponsor, Elite Island Resorts as a silver sponsor, and other island stakeholders, including: National Parks Authority, Fisheries, Coast Guard, local media, dive shops, fishermen, and others.   For further information, visit or contact [email protected].

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