Profile: Ruleo Camacho
by Steve Gittings
This is the final installment in a series of profiles of scientists, conservationists, celebrities and special guests who will be part of the first Antigua Open Lionfish Tournament on Nov 18-20th. Co-sponsored by Elkhorn Marine Conservancy (https://www.emcantigua.org) and Lionfish University (https://lionfishuniversity.org), the tournament will be capped with a festival in Nelson’s Dockyard on Nov 20th from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. A diverse group of experts who make up what organizer Martha Watkins Gilkes calls her “A-Team” will be at the festival. Here we profile Ruleo Camacho, a well known scientist and Marine Ecologist at the National Parks Authority for Antigua and Barbuda.
Ruleo Camacho was born and raised in Falmouth Village. “When I wasn’t at school, I was most likely in the water swimming, sailing or fishing,” he says. He is still a passionate fisherman, sailor, and marine scientist.
It could be his upbringing in and around the ocean, or inspiration he got by watching shows about the ocean and divers, that drove him to pursue a career where he could make a positive change in this sensitive and changing ecosystem that he considered home. A few smart educational decisions later, a lot of self-teaching (he worked on fishing boats during his school breaks), and good networking, and he is now doing just that. ‘
Ruleo studied Environmental Biology in Jamaica, and got a dual master’s degrees in Marine Biology and Marine Policy at the University of Maine, and is currently a Marine Ecologist with the National Parks Authority. He has been involved in a wide variety of work, studying herbivores on coral reefs, assessing seagrass, mangrove wetlands and coral reefs habitats, writing Environmental Impact Statements and management plans for development projects, monitoring Sargassum and sea turtle nests, and doing coral restoration.
Ruleo was first exposed to lionfish in 2008 while studying in Jamaica, where he assisted colleagues in hunting them to study what they were eating. They discovered that lionfish are “generalists,” meaning they eat anything they can catch. Since then, he has been an advocate and active hunter and promoter of lionfish consumption in Antigua and Barbuda. He also educates people on truths and misconceptions about lionfish and the invasion of the western Atlantic by this species, and how best to manage it.
I asked Ruleo what he thinks is the biggest misconception about lionfish. He said, “That it is dangerous to eat. I think a lot of people think lionfish is bad for you, or taste bad, or some combination, and that misconception prevents them from being willing to give it a fair shot as food. In fact, lionfish is delicious and good for you. Some people think they are poisonous, but they are confusing ‘poison’ with ‘venom.’” Ruleo adds, “Lionfish have venomous spines that can cause extreme pain, but their meat is not poisonous and is absolutely fine to eat.”
I asked Ruleo what was in his future. He says he has another target on his radar – a Ph.D. The bottom line for Ruleo is, “I got hooked on the marine environment when I was extremely young, and it has been my passion ever since.” His advice for others? “Find your passion and go after it!”
You can meet Ruleo at the festival on November 20 at Nelson’s Dockyard, where he will be giving a presentation from 3:20-3:40 titled “Parrotfish in Antigua,” and describe why parrotfish are so important to coral reef health and what happens without them.
The Antigua Open Lionfish Tournament is co-sponsored by Elkhorn Marine Conservancy and Lionfish University, and 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 the National Parks Authority, Fisheries, Coast Guard, local media, dive shops, fishermen, and others.
To register for the tournament, visit https://antigualionfish.com or complete a registration form and liability release at Ava’s Watersports on the main road in English Harbor, and for more information contact [email protected]