Alumni, Campus wide

Retired Air Force alumnus fights invasive lionfish

By Jan Joslin | May 27, 2020

The state of Florida has crowned Ken Ayers Jr. ’78 of Panama City Lionfish King for the second time. He was Lionfish King in 2017 also. He completed more than 175 dives in 2019 hunting lionfish. 

Killing more than 3,500 lionfish in the last three years, Ayers is doing his part to protect the Gulf of Mexico environment and its fisheries. The lionfish is an invasive species in the Gulf, and special precautions must be taken when handling these venomous fish. Ayers takes us on a deeper dive below:

The state of Florida has crowned Ken Ayers Jr. ’78 of Panama City Lionfish King for the second time.
The state of Florida has crowned Ken Ayers Jr. ’78 of Panama City Lionfish King for the second time. Photo provided

Lionfish Hunter 
I was introduced to shooting lionfish in 2015 while diving with a local dive company. We went to a reef called Warsaw Reef, and there were lionfish everywhere. I shot them with a fiberglass pole spear and collected them with a bag designed to hold them. It was challenging and incorporated all my dive skills, the perfect confluence.   

Invasion of the Lionfish
The lionfish is a voracious eater and multiplies exponentially if not placed in check by a natural predator.  Unfortunately, the Gulf of Mexico does not have any natural predators of the lionfish. Only divers can control the numbers. Lionfish have been harvested that have eaten crabs, lobsters and all variety of fish. They are not picky eaters. I have personally killed one that had five baby lobsters in its gut!   

A female lionfish can lay up to 30,000 eggs every three weeks. The egg mass is expelled and floats up and gets into the Gulf Steam and moves around distributing freshly hatched lionfish, so they spread far and wide throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Lionfish like depths of 65’ to 250’ generally. I have found the majority of them around the 95-110’ environment. Recreational divers can cover the 65-130’ range. Traps are being developed for the deeper depths. Lionfish prefer warmer water, so they occupy the 65-165’ range generally.   

Since BCC (CSU) 
After graduating in 1978 from the AFROTC program, I spent an additional 16.5 years as an officer in the Air Force, retiring after 20.5 years in 1995. While at Baptist College, I was the first South Carolina AFROTC Cadet to reach the cadet rank of colonel and receive the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Gold Medal Honor Award for “Outstanding Leadership and Academic Excellence” as top South Carolina AFROTC cadet.   

I have also graduated from Colorado University with a Master’s in telecommunications and Florida State University with a Specialist Master’s in mathematics education. While in the Air Force, I served in Desert Storm at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and had 70 combat hours and received the AF Air Medal performing duties as the EC-135 Radio Relay Aircraft Commander. By retirement I had been awarded three Meritorious Service Medals, three AF Commendation Medals, Good Conduct Medal, two National Defense Medals, Southwest Service Medal with two Battle Stars, Kuwaiti Liberation Medal and numerous service ribbons.   

I started diving in 2004 while working in Hawaii reaching the PADI Master Instructor rating and have over 1,900 dives in the past 15 years. Father of three, Nichole Galvin, Kelly, and Kenny Ayers and six grandchildren: Isabella Marie Ayers, Isabella Grace Galvin, Brendan Max Galvin, Jasmine, Kenny IV and Oliver Ayers. All three of my children hold master’s degrees. 

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