REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE and Oregon State University have used state-of-the-art technology, as well as good old fashioned diver surveys, to study this amazing natural phenomenon and the research has yielded ground-breaking results. It was a very exiting year - we documented significantly higher numbers of fish at the site than in previous years (we are estimating that the aggregation has surpassed 4,000 fish), there were a lot of small fish this year (6-8 year olds, coming to spawn for the first time), and there are hundreds of juvenile (young-of-the-year) Nassaus throughout the shallow habitats around Little Cayman (a result of 2011 spawning). Also this year, with support from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, we initiated an education program to introduce local children to the ecological, economic, and cultural role that Nassau grouper have in the Cayman Islands and wider Caribbean. An integrated marine science curriculum is being developed with a focus on two age groups (Grade 4 and Grade 11), that includes a series of classroom lessons and live from the field web sessions, including a live-feed from 80 feet on the aggregation. We are working with educator, Todd Bohannon, and piloting this program with Cayman Prep school on Grand Cayman.
Other highlights from Grouper Moon 2012:
- To raise awareness about the importance of spawning aggregations and the iconic Nassau grouper, we hosted documentary crews and underwater photographers to help capture the magical scenes of spawning and document our research. Dr. Guy Harvey, famed marine artist, is putting the finishing touches on "Mystery of the Grouper Moon", an hour-long show that will air later this year. A crew from the PBS series "Changing Seas" is producing an episode about the conservation impacts of our research. Paul Humann, REEF co-founder and marine life photographer, was on hand to document REEF's work in this important project. And Jim Hellemn brought his custom camera rig to generate wide-angle panorama images of the aggregation. These will be used to "immerse" the viewer into the aggregation at public displays.
- On spawning nights, samples of fertilized eggs were collected to use in future genetic work, to better understand spawning patterns and inter-conectedness between Nassau grouper populations throughout the Caribbean.
- Cynthia Shaw, author of the book "Grouper Moon", joined the REEF team both in the field and in the classroom this year. As a scientific illustrator, Cindy lent her expertise to helping document the details of juvenile Nassau gropuer habitat and led our Cayman Prep classrooms in drawning Nassau grouper. Cindy's book is now available in the REEF online store here.
- Research findings from the project, describing the timing and behavior of color phases on spawning in Nassau grouper, was published in a recent issue of the scientific journal Current Zoology. You can read this paper online here.
- A short compilation of underwater footage from the spawning aggregation is posted on YouTube here.
This year's effort came on the heals of the 11th hour extension of protections for the spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands. An 8-year ban that prohibits fishing at the aggregation sites during the reproductive season, originally implemented in 2003, was extended for eight more years in December 2011. The extension, enacted by the Marine Conservation Board, was in response to recommendations made by the CIDOE based on research findings of the Grouper Moon Project, showing that full protections during spawning season are critical to the long-term survival of this iconic species in the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Ministry may soon review a package of more thorough legislation that would enact seasonal closures for Nassau grouper during reproductive time (rather than only protecting the few spots on the map of known spawning sites).
Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. Visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - http://www.REEF.org//groupermoonproject. If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.
A new paper was just published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation documenting a key monitoring technique established by scientists from REEF and our Grouper Moon collaborators. The paper, "Documenting recovery of a spawning aggregation through size frequency analysis from underwater laser calipers measurements", describes a technique to monitor changes in fish size on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation through time that does not require the capture and handling of fish. Analysis of seven years of data show that length-distribution data can be collected by divers using a video-based system with parallel lasers calibrated to a specific distance apart. This novel technique is one of just several being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project. View the paper online here. Find out more about our work on endangered Nassau Grouper by visiting the Grouper Moon Project webpage.
Over 100 REEF Sustainers, marine conservationists, scientists, and prominent figures in the diving industry gathered in South Florida earlier this month to commemorate REEF's successes at the biennial REEF Sustainers Event. REEF Sustainers are donors who contribute at least $1,000 a year to support REEF's programs. REEF Board of Trustees and Staff welcomed our Sustainers and other invited guests to Mango Manor, the home of esteemed underwater photographer and REEF President, Paul Humann, for a day of presentations and camaraderie. It was an honor to have so many of our donors as well as leaders from the scientific and diving communities show support for REEF’s ocean conservation projects. Their support is critical and provides the resources to continue running REEF’s key programs: the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, Invasive Lionfish Program, and the Grouper Moon Project. If you would like to join REEF as a Sustainer, please contact Martha Klitzkie at martha@REEF.org or 305-852-0030. You can also make your donation through our secure online contribution portal. A special thanks to the event's sponsors and auction donors: Rocio del Mar Liveaboard, Rogest, Caradonna Dive Adventures, Carrow Foundation, Herdeg, du Pont & Dalle Pazze, LLP, New World Publications, and Cheeko Douglas.
A few weeks ago, the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project database topped 175,000 surveys! We are exicted and proud to have reached this milestone. Together with our 14,000+ volunteers, we have created the largest fish sightings database in the world! This vital dataset is used by marine scientists, researchers, and government agencies to better understand and protect marine resources. The number of scientific publications, requests for data, and policy decisions resulting from REEF data continue to increase. Visit our Publications page to see the citations list of scientific papers that feature REEF data. Visit our Top 10 Stats page to see the most frequently sighted species, the most species-rich locations, and our most active surveyors.
The Volunteer Fish Survey Project is the cornerstone program that supports REEF's mission to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting, and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists. The program allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations from throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, Caribbean, Hawaii, and the tropical West Pacific, as well as on selected invertebrate and algae species along the West Coast of the US and Canada and the South Atlantic States. The data are collected using an easy and standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. The first surveys were conducted 20 years ago in Key Largo, in July 1993.
Explore the REEF database online at www.REEF.org/db/reports.
Our 2014 Fishinar schedule is off to a great start! We've got lots of exciting, fun, and educational REEF Fishinars in store for you this year - featuring your favorite instructors and special guests alike. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. Fishinars coming up include:
REEF Fishinars are a free benefit of REEF membership, and did you know that REEF members can also access and view any of our archived Fishinars from previous years? A great way for new fish surveyors to learn, or for experienced fish surveyors to brush up on their ID skills.
Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online!
REEF teamed up with the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) during the second week of September to host the first-ever “Corals In & Lionfish Out,” a series of events to engage and educate the public while raising funds for coral restoration and invasive lionfish removal efforts in the Florida Keys. “Corals In & Lionfish Out” coincided with REEF’s Fifth Annual Key Largo Lionfish Derby, which was held at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Sept. 13. During the Derby, 15 teams of divers and snorkelers competed from sunrise until 5PM, and removed a total of 573 lionfish from reefs in the Upper Keys. In addition to the 79 Derby participants, many other Florida Keys residents and visitors came to the Derby to sample lionfish ceviche, witness lionfish dissections, and learn more about the lionfish invasion. The Key Largo Lionfish Derby was the fourth and final in REEF’s 2014 Derby series, which collectively removed 2,677 lionfish from reefs in South Florida and The Bahamas.
The events leading up to the Key Largo Lionfish Derby included REEF’s monthly “Fish and Friends” social, which featured a presentation on invasive lionfish by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Elizabeth Underwood, REEF Lionfish Program Manager. Ken Nedimyer, the Founder and President of CRF, also shared a lecture about the history and future of coral restoration in the Florida Keys and ways to become involved in the work. Following this seminar, CRF held its Coral Plant-a-Thon on September 11. During the one-day Plant-a-Thon, 765 corals were planted by 11 divers in near-shore patch reefs in the Upper Keys. In conjunction with the week’s outstanding coral planting and lionfish removal efforts, more than $1,000 was raised to support CRF and REEF’s marine conservation programs.
At the end of this month, keep your eyes peeled for an announcement about REEF’s Month of Membership Madness! There are lots of exciting ways to get involved in April, in honor of Earth Day. So, be sure to check your inbox, and help us spread the word about the great work that REEF does to support ocean conservation, education, and research.
Mangroves provide important nursery habitat for coral reef fishes, such as grunts, snappers, and others. While this has been shown locally in some studies, a new paper by scientists from NOAA Fisheries and University of Miami RSMAS used REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data to evaluate mangrove-reef connectivity at the Caribbean regional scale. Their findings, recently published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, showed that the size of nearby mangrove forests directly influences reef fish densities of at least 6 species.This study is a great example of the power and impact that long-term, wide-spread citizen science programs such as the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project can have on addressing important ecological and management questions that would otherwise be near impossible to evaluate. Way to go REEF surveyors! Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to see this and all of the 50+ scientific publications that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data.
We are excited to share our 2017 REEF Trips Schedule, with a fantastic lineup of destinations planned. These Field Survey Trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice surveyors, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow marine life enthusiasts. We also offer several Lionfish Research Trips each year. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF experts lead these trips, and each trip features daily educational seminars and a full diving schedule. To find out more or to book your space, contact us at trips@REEF.org or call 305-588-5869. Visit www.REEF.org/trips for full package details. Trips fill up fast so don't delay. And be sure to check out the remaining 2016 trips that still have space, including: Lionfish trips to Honduras and Curacao, Bermuda, Palau & Yap, Barkley Sound BC, Saba, Coronado Island CA, Belize, and Cozumel.
2017 REEF Field Survey Schedule
February 18 - 25 -- Dominica -- Dive Dominica & Castle Comfort Lodge, Led by Lad Akins
April 4 - 14 -- Solomon Islands -- M/V Bilikiki, Led by Christy Pattengill-Semmens
April 22 - 29 -- Turks and Caicos Islands -- Dive Provo and Port of Call Resort, Led by Jonathan Lavan
May 14 - 21 -- Galapagos Islands -- M/V Galapagos Sky Liveaboard, Led by Christy Pattengill-Semmens
June 10 - 16 -- Alaska Wilderness Expedition - Port Fidalgo Inlet, Alaska -- Ravencroft Lodge, Led by Andy Dehart
June 24 - July 1 -- Bahamas -- Lionfish Research Trip Explorer II Liveaboard, Led by Lad Akins and Peter Hughes
June 24 - July 1 -- Roatan -- CoCo View Resort, Led by Janna Nichols and Scott & Patti Chandler
August 19 - 26 -- Curacao -- Lionfish Research and Fish ID Trip Combo GO WEST Diving and Kura Hulanda Lodge, Led by Lad Akins, Peter Hughes, and Ellie Splain
August 19 - 26 -- Sea of Cortez -- Rocio del Mar Liveaboard, Led by Christy and Brice Semmens, SOLD OUT
September 2 - 9 -- Bequia -- Bequia Dive Adventures and Village Apartments, Led by Paul Humann
October 1 - 8 -- Grand Cayman -- Sunset House, Led by Paul Humann
October 14 - 25 -- Indonesia Lembeh Strait -- Eco Divers, Led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, SOLD OUT
October 15 - 19 -- Hornby Island British Columbia -- Hornby Island Diving, Led by Janna Nichols
November 4 - 11 -- Bonaire -- Captain Don's Habitat, Led by Amy Lee and Janna Nichols
December 2 - 9 -- Cozumel -- Chili Charters and Casa Mexicana/Safari Inn, Led by Tracey Griffin
December 3 - 9 -- British Virgin Islands -- Cuan Law Liveaboard, Led by Ellie Splain
This past Columbus Day, I attended a special event in Norfolk, Virginia, where the ex-USAFS Vandenberg is in its final preparatory stages for deployment next spring, 6 miles off the coast of Key West. REEF will monitor the Vandenberg over the next 5 years in a similar monitoring and assessment project to the just completed 5-year Spiegel Grove assessment in Key Largo. The sinking of the Vandenberg is expected to add millions of dollars in diving/tourist related revenue to Monroe County. The hope is that the Vandenberg will not only add tourist revenue but also will reduce the diving pressure on the natural reefs in the area, “loving our reefs to death.”
REEF’s role will be assessing the biological impact the Vandenberg has on the fish community in the vicinity of this new addition. We fully anticipate that the Vandenberg will add to the fish species richness of the area as fish pass through and eventually settle onto the site as residents; provide protected areas for protected IUCN listed species such as Goliath and Nassau groupers; and increase the fish biomass in the area as the fishes on the Vandenberg mature and then reproduce, in effect seeding the surrounding reefs. The Vandenberg will be deployed in approximately 140-ft of water, close to 540’ in length (just 30-ft longer than the Spiegel), but weighs almost 3 times as much as the Spiegel Grove at around 15,000 tons! REEFMAKERS™ is currently reducing the height of the ship and taking some of the towers and satellite dishes and strategically placing these structures onto the deck, adding a lot of complex structure that should be very attractive habitats for fishes. The aim is to sink the Vandenberg in less than 3 minutes, adding a dramatic crescendo onto a multi-year project in the making!
We are currently working out the final monitoring plan but we anticipate a pre-deployment event in the spring of 2008, followed by 3 additional monitoring events next year using our Advanced Assessment Team members. Similar to the Spiegel, REEF will monitor not only the Vandenberg itself but 7 surrounding reference sites over several days per event. REEF’s data analysis from our 5-year Spiegel project, once complete, will assist us in the Vandenberg project expectations. The sinking of the Vandenberg has been in the planning stages for several years and REEF will be working directly or indirectly with several partners on this project including:
REEFMAKERS™ in New Jersey and Artificial Reefs of the Keys (ARK) based in Key West will be responsible for sinking the Vandenberg, along with the direct support of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. REEF is excited to be a part of this project with all its intrinsic biological, socioeconomic and educational value.