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CURRENT and PAST
SCIENTIFIC PROJECTS

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) Projects

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Grouper Moon Project
The 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 spawning aggregation.

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 Website.
View REEF's 2002 FKNMS Zone Monitoring Report (PDF)

View REEF's 1994-2001 Volunteer Reef Fish Monitoring Summary Report in the FKNMS (PDF)

View REEF's 2000 FKNMS Zone Monitoring Report (PDF)

Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary Assessment Project
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
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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.

Spiegel Grove Monitoring
The Spiegel 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 Akins.

REEF's Year 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 Monitoring
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 Monitoring
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 annually.
Click here to view the 2001 DTNP final report.

Biscayne National Park - Inventory of Cryptic Fishes
This 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 Program
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.  Sightings 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.
View 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 download:
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 missions.  

AGRRA
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 Index page.  

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):

Flower Garden Banks  |  St. Croix  |  Cayman Islands

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC)
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.

Subsequently, 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.   

In 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 sightings represents over half of the jewfish data available to scientists, was used as a basis to keep the fishery closed.

If you 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: hornb@gfc.state.fl.us.

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 Akins.
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 State quick 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.

 


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Date Last Modified: 08/27/07

Site Design: Brice X. Semmens
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