CURRENT and PAST
REEF is involved in a variety of scientific projects in collaboration with other
organizations and partners. Summaries of these projects are below, and
links to project-specific webpages are given when available.
Grouper Moon Project
National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) Projects
Projects in National Parks -- Biscayne
NP, Dry Tortugas NP
Exotic Species Sighting Program
Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA)
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC)
Grouper Moon Project was initiated in
the Winter of 2002 with an expedition to the Cayman Islands.
The expedition’s objectives were to observe the Nassau grouper (Epinephelus
striatus ) spawning aggregation off the western tip of Little Cayman, and to
develop a protocol for monitoring their numbers and activity at the site.
For two weeks, a team of divers that included five REEF staff and
volunteers and staff
from the Cayman Islands Department of Environment visited the aggregation site
and nearby reefs. Visit the Grouper Moon
page for more information and to view results and images of the
Current NOAA Projects
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Zone Monitoring
On July 1, 1997, a new management plan went into effect in the Florida Keys National
Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) that included a large-scale marine zoning plan with 23 no-take
zones. These zones aim to protect the biological diversity and integrity of the marine
environment in the Keys. Since 1997, as part of the FKNMS Zone Monitoring Program,
REEF has conducted annual monitoring in the Sanctuary using its Advanced Assessment Team (AAT). The main purpose
of REEF's project is to evaluate the effect of harvest restrictions on the fish
assemblages at 16 no-take sites within the Sanctuary. The AAT conducts a minimum of 6
roving diver surveys at each no-take site, and at reference areas that are similar to the
protected sites but where harvest has not been restricted. Monitoring is also being
conducted at 6 sites in the Dry Tortugas.
Surveys conducted by the AAT complement the larger REEF dataset from the FKNMS, which
contains almost 10,000 surveys. As part of REEF's monitoring contract, we provide an
annual report to the FKNMS. For more
information on the FKNMS Zone Monitoring Program, visit the FKNMS
View REEF's 2002 FKNMS Zone Monitoring Report
View REEF's 1994-2001 Volunteer Reef Fish
Monitoring Summary Report in the FKNMS (PDF)
View REEF's 2000 FKNMS Zone Monitoring Report
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary Assessment
In 2002, REEF initiated a fish-monitoring program within Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary (GRNMS). The project uses the REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) to conduct annual visual fish surveys within GRNMS. The surveys are conducted using the Roving Diver Technique (RDT) to measure species composition and estimate abundances. Beginning in 2004, REEF
added a quantitative size-monitoring component for targeted species (black sea bass, Lutjanids and
Serranids). The primary goals of this project are to 1) to provide GRNMS with a taxonomic inventory of fish species found within the Sanctuary as well as a dataset that can be used through time to measure spatial and temporal trends, 2) to assess the size structure and biomass of key targeted fish species within the GRNMS, 3) to complement the current stationary visual fish counts that have been conducted at GRNMS since 1995, and 4) to increase local and national awareness on the Sanctuary resources and give constituents a comparative fish data resource that can be used for the better management of GRNMS.
This project has provided a substantial increase of effort in the REEF database. Prior to the start of this project in 2002, there were only 18 surveys from the Sanctuary in the database.
As of July 2006, there are over 300 surveys from GRNMS in the REEF
database. Several new fish records for the Sanctuary have also
resulted from the REEF project.
Wellwood Restoration Monitoring
The M/V Wellwood, a 122-meter Cypriot-registered freighter, ran
aground on August 4, 1984, on Molasses Reef off Key Largo, Florida. The
ship impacted the reef’s upper fore reef and remained aground for 12
days. The grounding destroyed 1,285 square meters of living corals and
injured 644 square meters of coral reef framework.
In an effort to restore habitat structure and stability to the
grounding site, restoration began in May 2002.
REEF was contracted by the National Marine Sanctuary Program to
document recruitment of fishes onto the site as well as the subsequent
changes, if any, to surrounding reefs sites.
REEF’s Advanced Assessment Team and Staff are being
used to conduct the monitoring. Both
Roving Diver surveys and belt transect surveys are being conducted at the
Wellwood site and 2 adjacent natural reef sites before restoration occurs.
The effort will document
species composition and abundance of all fish species encountered, as well
as size and density structure of key fish species. Monthly
monitoring will be conducted after restoration has begun for four months,
quarterly monitoring for the remainder of Year 1, and yearly for Years 2
through 5. This will
provide temporal documentation of fish composition changes over time. The value of the information collected during this project
will specifically aid in the assessment of restoration sites as effective
replacements for natural habitat.
For more information on the Wellwood project and
to view project reports,
visit REEF's Wellwood Monitoring Webpage or contact Lad Akins.
Grove is a 510’ LSD that was sunk as an artificial reef structure in
the waters between Molasses Reef and Elbow Reef in Key Largo, Florida, in
May 2002. The vessel is the largest ship ever intentionally scuttled to
create an artificial reef. Pursuant
to the permit received by the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation (UKARF)
to sink the ship in National Marine Sanctuary waters, a plan for
pre-deployment and periodic monitoring was implemented. The
UKARRF contracted REEF to conduct pre-deployment and periodic monitoring
of the Spiegel Grove and
adjacent natural and artificial reef sites.
Monitoring will document fish presence/absence and relative
abundance at 8 sites during 7 monitoring events in Year 1 and then
bi-annually thereafter for four years.
The primary goal of the monitoring will be to document changes
within each of the 8 sites. In addition, comparisons between sites will be conducted to
potentially detect correlations in patterns between sites.
For more information on the Spiegel Grove project, contact Lad
One Spiegel Grove Monitoring Report, submitted to the Florida Keys
National Marine Sanctuary and Monroe County, is available for download here.
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Annual
Since 1994, REEF has conducted annual Field Surveys to the Flower Garden
Banks. As of 2006, approximately 3,000 fish surveys have been conducted in the
Sanctuary. In 1998, a paper comparing novice versus expert REEF data
was published in the Journal of Gulf of Mexico Science by Pattengill-Semmens
and Semmens, and the data used for the paper were from the annual FGB
cruises. A .pdf file of this
paper is available for download. In collaboration with
the Sanctuary, REEF conducted an AGRRA survey at the Banks in 1999, and a
summary report is available for download here.
REEF Projects in National Parks
Dry Tortugas National Park
In the Fall of 2001, REEF was contracted by the
National Park Service to conduct fish surveys at 18 sites within the Dry
Tortugas National Park (DTNP). The
monitoring was in response to the passage of an updated management plan
for the park that implemented zoning including no-take areas.
Surveys were conducted by a group of REEF staff and Advanced
Assessment Team (AAT) members. The
primary objective of the project was to establish a baseline of
information on fish assemblages at the 18 sites in order to assist the
park in the evaluation of the efficacy of the management zones once they
are implemented. In addition
to providing useful information, the involvement of volunteers in the
assessment of park resources will improve constituent building and
encourage a sense of ownership in DTNP resources by the public.
This project complements a similar zone monitoring program that
REEF has conducted since 1997 within the Florida Keys National Marine
Sanctuary (see above). As
part of the Sanctuary project, ten Dry Tortugas sites are surveyed
Click here to view the 2001 DTNP final report.
Biscayne National Park
- Inventory of Cryptic Fishes
goal of this project is to fully characterize the reef distribution and
abundance in Biscayne National Park (BNP), with a specific focus on small
and cryptic species. This two year project was initiated in the
Spring of 2005, and includes a team of REEF experts conducting Roving
Diver surveys for five days biannually. During each project, the
team conducts fish surveys in eight different habitat types, including
seagrasses, sand and rubble, mangrove channels, wrecks, and four different
types of reefs. Between March, 2005 and September 2006 teams of
REEF expert volunteers conducted 337 visual fish censuses at 158 sites
among 9 habitat types within the Biscayne National Park (BNP) near Miami,
Florida. 276 species were
documented during the biannual surveys from 10,728 sightings records,
adding 66 species to the BNP inventory list of fishes present in the park.
Voucher specimens and
photographs of those species previously undocumented in the BNP were
collected and included in a museum collection. This effort resulted in significant increases to the BNP fish species list
utilizing a cost effective, volunteer-based, non-extractive method.
Because of the opportunity to survey in non-traditional
habitats (and the opportunity to find rare species), this was one of our
Advanced Assessment Team's favorite projects.
Click here to view the final report on
the BNP Inventory of Crypic Fishes.
Exotic Species Sighting
The threat of exotic species to aquatic environments
has gained attention in the media through cases such as the zebra mussel
and lamprey in the Great Lakes and Caulerpa taxifolia algae (AKA
the killer algae) in California. Incidences
of exotic marine fish species have not been widely reported until
recently. Recreational divers and snorkelers are a valuable source
of information for tracking exotic fish species because they are looking,
taking notice of rare things and often know what doesn't belong. In 2002,
REEF launched its Exotic Species Sighting Program.
data will be used to track exotic species introductions, document
populations that appear to be spreading, and serve as an early warning
system to hopefully prevent harmful impacts to the native ecosystem.
For more information, visit the Exotic
Species Program Webpage.
PAST SCIENTIFIC PROJECTS
The following projects have been completed.
Past NOAA Projects
Biogeography of Fishes in the Florida Keys
NOAA's Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment's (CCMA) Biogeography Program is
currently working on a two-year project to use REEF fish data from the Florida Keys to
evaluate the biogeography of living marine resources in the Florida Keys National Marine
Sanctuary (FKNMS). The spatial distribution of benthic habitats often mediates the
effects of ecological processes (e.g. predation, competition, dispersal) that determines
the distribution and abundance of tropical fishes. As such, this project will
correlate benthic habitat variables with the distribution, abundance, and size of reef
fishes within and outside management zones in the FKNMS. The first phase of this
project was started in 1999 with mapping species' distributions. Over the next year,
reef fish composition and habitat parameters will be coupled to identify species habitat
affinities. Correlation between benthic habitats and fish communities will be
analyzed using a number of multivariate statistical techniques such as cluster
correspondence and discriminant analyses.
The first portion of this project was published as a NOAA Technical
Report in February 2001. For more information about this project, contact Chris Jeffrey at CCMA or Christy Semmens at REEF.
the "Distribution and sighting frequency of reef fishes in the Florida Keys
National Marine Sanctuary" Technical Report (PDF)
Coastal Zone Management Program
With funding from NOAA's Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program, REEF and The Ocean
Conservancy coordinated four Fish and Benthic Monitoring Workshops in
Puerto Rico, the USVI, and San Andres (Colombia) in 2001 and 2002. These week-long programs
were targeted at
local stakeholders and participation was free of charge through CZM funding sponsorship. The
workshops featured classroom and field training in taxonomic identification of local fishes, corals,
algae, and key invertebrates and in the survey methodologies of two volunteer monitoring programs,
REEF's Fish Survey Project and The Ocean Conservancy’s Reef Ecosystem Condition Program
(RECON). The purpose of the workshops are three-fold: 1) to enable a local corps of divers to
provide on-going fish and benthic condition data for local reefs, 2) to collect a baseline of
information on the fish populations of the area using a REEF Advanced Assessment Team, and 3) to
establish and collect baseline data at RECON survey sites. Summary reports
on the workshops are available for
Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico Workshop Report (PDF)
San Andres, Colombia Workshop Report (PDF)
La Parguera, Puerto Rico Workshop Report (PDF)
St. Thomas Workshop Report (PDF)
Sustainable Seas Expedition
The Sustainable Seas Expedition (SSE) was a five-year project to explore
the deeper regions of the National Marine Sanctuaries by submarine. It is headed by
Dr. Sylvia Earle and is a partnership between the National Geographic and NOAA that is
funded by the Goldman Family Fund. The subs, called Deepworker 2000, are one-person,
unteathered subs capable of diving to 2,000 feet. Beginning
with its first year of exploration in
1999, REEF's Executive Director, Laddie Akins, has participated in several missions at three of the
Sanctuary sites and in Mexico. During his sub dives, Laddie conducts deep
water fish surveys using a modified version of REEF's Roving Diver Technique.
Click here to read more about REEF's participation in SSE and highlights of
Laddie's explorations, including a video of his sightings from the 2001
The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) program is an
international effort by scientists and managers aimed at determining the regional
condition of coral reefs. A standardized protocol is used to measure the health of
the reef using fish, corals, and algae. REEF's survey methodology and database are
included as a component of the fish protocol. Therefore, REEF will manage a portion
of the AGRRA data collected by the research teams. In addition, in 1999, REEF staff
and Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) members participated in five of the AGRRA expeditions-
Andros, the Cayman Islands, the Flower Garden Banks, Saba/St. Marteen/St. Eustatia, and
St. Croix. The data summary reports from these projects can be found
in REEF's database at the Survey
Papers and reports have been produced by REEF for
several of the expeditions and are available as .pdf files (click on the
name to download the pdf file):
Garden Banks | St. Croix
| Cayman Islands
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Jewfish Population Study
Sightings of jewfish (Epinephelus
itajara) during REEF surveys in Florida are currently being used in a
population study of the species. The
project is being conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS;
Miami) in collaboration with Florida State University and the Florida Fish
and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC). Jewfish is one of the largest fishes found on a reef and can
reach up to 8 feet long and 680 pounds of weight.
(The International Game Fish Association Florida saltwater record is
680 pounds, caught May 20, 1961 off Fernandina Beach, Florida.).
These gentle giants have been protected from harvest in Florida since
1990, and it has become extremely difficult to determine the status of the
fishery stock. Traditional
methods for determining the health of a normal fishery rely heavily on
harvest rates. However, these data are no long available for jewfish because
of their no-take status.
REEF surveyors are providing an invaluable source of information on the
distribution and frequency of jewfish.
The REEF database contains sightings of the fishes since 1994. REEF survey data are proving to be extremely useful by not
only providing the abundance but also the sighting location (latitude
& longitude), temperature, reef type and other variables being used
determine the status of the jewfish stock.
These data are being used to produce GIS maps that show the jewfish
distribution over time and its recovery up the Florida peninsula.
2000, the continued protection of jewfish came under question. Without
fisheries landing information, the Federal Fisheries Management Councils
and the Florida FWCC needed alternative data to help decide the
ruling. REEF’s database, with over 300 confirmed jewfish
over half of the jewfish data available to scientists, was used as a basis
to keep the fishery closed.
want more information about this on-going project, please contact Bill Horn
with the FWCC artificial reef program at (850) 922-4340 or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Artificial Reef Monitoring
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) is Florida's principal
environmental agency, and since 1980 it has coordinated an artificial reef program using
manmade materials to attract and replenish fish stocks. The FWCC contracts with
coastal counties to conduct ongoing monitoring studies of these artificial reefs.
In Fall 2003, REEF completed an assessment of 16
historical artificial reefs within Monroe County. The specific objective
of the project is to evaluate and compare these 16 artificial reef sites and monitor them three times over the course of one year. The 16
sites are composed of bridge spans, concrete rubble, steel pipes, barge, and steel boats that were deployed in the
1980s. These sites were deployed when only loran coordinates, not GPS, was available. REEF is
locating all 16 sites and obtaining accurate Differential GPS coordinates, conducting
RDT fish surveys, and conducting a materials evaluations of each site.
To find out more about this project, contact Lad
To view site summaries and pictures for each of the 16 sites, visit our
Florida Keys Artificial Reef Monitoring site.
Between 1999-2001, REEF conducted a training program to assist these local teams in standardizing their
methodology and reporting scheme. Through this program, REEF trained several of
these county teams in local fish identification and assisted the teams in adopting the
REEF survey methodology. Implementing the REEF database will provide the
access to collected data and allow scientists to compare fish assemblages at the different
artificial reef sites statewide. For more information on this
completed project, contact Lad Akins at REEF.