Turks and Caicos Field Survey aboard Aggressor II

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Turks and Caicos Survey Group (sans Marty Levy, off chasing a whale blenny)
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Suzanne Rose with one of two invasive Red Lionfish seen on Turks Survey
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Patricia Broom Surveying Wall on North Caicos Island
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Caribbean Reef Shark, one of many seen during the week
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Jill Ericsson surveying the wall, looking for Cave and Threeline basslets

REEF recently completed our Turks and Caicos Field Survey aboard the Aggressor II on Saturday, April 26.  We had a tremendous effort by a stellar group of 20 REEF surveyors.  Although we have not yet processed the data, I can give a few hints at what we saw during the week-long trip. 

Overall, the group surveyed at least 213 fish species over 12 dive sites and 26 survey dives, 5 dives on most days.  We surveyed many habitat types including hard and soft coral areas, patch reefs and grass beds but most of our efforts were concentrated along the famed walls along the islands.  Some notable fish sightings included:  Black snapper (Apsilus dentatus), Golden hamlet (Hypoplectrus gummigutta), Dwarf blenny (Starksia nanodes), Papillose blenny (Acanthemblemaria chaplini), Cardinal soldierfish (Plectrypops retrospinis), Lofty triplefin (Enneanectes altivelis), Almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana), Fringed filefish (Monacanthus ciliatus), Wall goby (Gobiosoma pallens), Black brotula (Stygnobrotula latebricola), Goldline blenny (Malacoctenus aurolineatus),  and Punk blenny (Acanthemblemaria sp).  We surveyed some large schools of Horse-Eye jacks and saw a number of Caribbean reef sharks.  We also had two confirmed Red lionfish (Pterois volitans) sightings (see picture with article).  Unfortunately, if there are two Lionfish surveyed, there are undoubtedly many more in the Turks and Caicos islands already.

We had a seasoned group of REEF members, many of whom had been on numbers of past survey trips and 60% of the group participants were expert surveyors. Consequently, our efforts were rewarded with lots of cryptic species sightings such as the ones listed above. The hospitality of the Aggressor crew was superb, gracious, and quite professional.  One of the nice things about a live-aboard field survey is the camaraderie that develops between members who share a number of traits such as a love of diving, conservation-minded attitude towards our marine resources, a desire to make positive changes to said resources, and a general fish geekiness for lack of a better term, that rears it's head from time to time in visceral debates about whether someone really saw a Wall goby or not. 

Fortunately for us, many members brought their cameras and we were able to verify most unusual sightings with pictures.   The learning curve is leveled while on live-aboard with everyone sharing diving/surveying tips and helping each other find and verify common and rare sightings alike.

I would like to congratulate several participants on reaching new experience levels during the week:  Barbara Anderson, Marty Levy, Larry Draper, and Kayla Serote all tested into level 5 surveyors.  Suzanne Rose, Marie Robbins, and Kay Tiddmann are all new level 3 surveyors. Jerry Dickman is our newest level 2 surveyor.  Congratulations to all the participants for a great survey effort for the week and all the good spirit shared.  Also, thanks James Brook and Kristi Draper for taking Kay Tidemann under their wings and teaching her during the week, she was our most improved surveyor as a result and her enthusiasm spilled over to the group. I hope to see many of you in the water on surveys later this year.  I am currently planning our 2009 Field Survey schedule and will have more details on that in our next Enews edition in May. There are still spaces available on two Field Survey trips for 2008, Paul Humann's Discovery Tour in Key Largo (June 21-28) and the Sea of Cortez with Don Jose (Oct 5-12).  If interested in either of these trips, please contact Joe Cavanaugh at 305-852-0030 for the Discovery Tour and Jeanne at Baja Expeditions at 800-843-6967 for the Sea of Cortez trip.

 

REEF Participates in International Coral Reef Symposium

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Grouper Moon scientist, Dr. Brice Semmens, presented findings in the ICRS Reef Management session.
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Joe Cavanaugh talks with an ICRS participant about REEF's programs.

REEF staff recently returned from the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where nearly 3,000 scientists, conservationists, and government officials met to compare notes, network and identify problems and solutions for the ocean's most delicate ecosystem. This is the keystone scientific meeting on coral reef science. REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, gave a talk on the science and management applications of the REEF database and presented a research poster on the same topic. REEF Director of Field Operations, Joe Cavanaugh, presented a research poster on the 5-year monitoring project of the Wellwood Restoration Project in the Florida Keys. Additionally, REEF data were included in several talks and research posters by other scientists, including an analyses of Conch Reef status and trends by Dr. Steve Gittings, an evaluation of fish resources in Biscayne Bay by Dr. Todd Kellison, and the effect artisanal fisheries in developing nations have on predatory fishes by Dr. Chris Stallings. The Lionfish invasion was also a hot topic and REEF collaborators from Simon Fraser University presented a research poster on the effect of lionfish on cleanerfish in the Bahamas. Dr. Brice Semmens presented results from the Grouper Moon Project and how results from this cutting edge research being conducted by REEF and our collaborators can be used to inform marine reserve planning and evaluation.

REEF also participated in the ICRS Education Center. REEF staff and interns hosted an exhibit booth, which was a great success in spreading the word about REEF and our important conservation programs. The Grouper Moon Project was featured in the Solutions portion of the "Our Reefs: Caribbean Connections" traveling exhibit and the Grouper Moon documentary film was shown in the Coral Theater. Participating in scientific conferences such as ICRS is an important part of REEF's overall strategy of linking the diving community with scientists and resource managers.

REEF Names 2008 Volunteer of the Year

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REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, awards Sheryl Shea the 2008 Volunteer of the Year award on Little Cayman in February.
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Sheryl before a dive on the 2009 Grouper Moon Project.

REEF proudly awards our 2008 Volunteer of the Year award to Sheryl Shea, a dedicated REEF surveyor, teacher and ambassador. Sheryl became a REEF member in the very early days of the organization and has consistently been one of our most active surveyors. Her first survey was conducted in 1994 and to date Sheryl has conducted 954 REEF surveys. Sheryl became a member of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) in 1999 and her lifelist contains 351 fish species. After moving to Cozumel from Buffalo, NY, Sheryl facilitated REEF training programs for the Cozumel Marine Park and started leading an annual REEF Field Survey on the island in 2005. This popular REEF trip sells out every year. Sheryl has participated in several AAT projects including monitoring in the Florida Keys, the Grouper Moon Project and helped initiate REEF’s survey program in the Veracruz Marine Park.

Picking just one outstanding volunteer each year is difficult. REEF volunteers are the cornerstone of the organization. Without this dedicated corps, our marine conservation programs would not exist. They are central to the REEF Volunteer Survey Project, in which over 12,000 divers and snorkelers have submitted their sightings information to the largest marine life database in the world. REEF volunteers conduct important marine conservation research alongside scientists as part of the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Invasion Program. And donations from our members are critical to ensuring the long-term success of the organization.

The REEF staff and Board of Trustees extend a big thank you to Sheryl and congratulate her on all of her efforts and great work on behalf of the organization and marine conservation. Cheers to our Volunteer of the Year!

Rare Finds on the Grenada Field Survey

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Lucky participants on the REEF Field Survey to Grenada aboard the Peter Hughes Wind Dancer.
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A Longspine Sailfin Blenny was seen by the group in the Grenadines, a species previously thought to be restricted to Venezuela. Photo by Paul Humann.

REEF Field Surveys are not just another dive vacation. These eco-trips offer divers and snorkelers the chance to really get to know the critters that are seen underwater. In mid-July Paul Humann lead a Field Survey trip to the fairly remote group of Caribbean Islands in Grenada and the Grenadines and the participants were rewarded with many exciting finds. The group was a mixture of expert, intermediate and beginning REEF fish surveyors, and it was a great opportunity for everyone to learn and have fun. The evening classes and general discussions led everyone to improve their identifications skills. During the week, Blue McRight took and passed the Expert Level exam - Congratulations Blue!

Beyond having fun and learning, the objectives of this trip were two-fold: build up the fish survey data for this remote area and document possible species range expansions. Because of the islands’ proximity to South America, the group was especially interested in learning if any species thought to exist only along that continental coast would be found on these islands to the north. On the first night, Paul gave a presentation about species of fish to be on the look out for. The results were amazing. First and foremost - the Longspine Sailfin Blenny and Resh Pikeblenny, never recorded outside Venezuelan waters before were found! Sighting confirmations of the Giraffe Garden Eel, Veija, Red Banner Blenny, Bluebar Jawfish, Corocoro and Bluestripe Dartfish, rarely in waters north of Venezuela or Tobago were important as well. Also recorded were the very rarely spotted Spiny Flounder, African Pompano, Unicorn Filefish and Snapper Snake Eel. A total count of 261 species is nearly a REEF Field Survey record! And the group conducted 221 surveys during the week. To see the project summary and fish list, check out the REEF database. Paul, REEF and the fish thank everyone involved for making this such a successful Survey Trip. A special thanks goes to Jill Ericsson for taking charge of the survey forms.

Be sure to check out the exciting line-up of destinations for the 2010 REEF Field Survey Schedule. Come join us and make a dive vacation that Counts!

Great Diving On One of the Friendliest Islands in the Caribbean

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Lucky REEF members who joined Board Member Heather George for a week in Dominica.
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The cryptic Reef Scorpionfish was a good find on the Dominica Field Survey. Photo by Jonathan Lavan.

Last week, we kicked off the 2010 REEF Field Survey season with a spectacular trip to Dominica. Eight REEF members (and two non-diving spouses) headed out for 5 days of excellent dives with many wonderful discoveries along the way. Highlights included a glut of Secretary Blennies, Arrow Blennies and Lofty Triplefins along with Cherubfish, Longlure Frogfish, Longsnout Seahorses, Shortnose Batfish, a Reef Scorpionfish (see picture), most of the Hamlets and a Black Brotula found by yours truly and witnessed by James Brooke and trip leader Heather George. Another thrilling highlight was watching a pair of Barred Hamlets spawning during our dusk dive - the final dive of the trip. Congratulations go out to our new level 3 surveyors, Amy Kramer and Chris Ostrom, and a new level 2 surveyor, Kirsten Ostrom. Both topside and below, the crew at Dive Dominica was very enthusiastic. Not only were they very interested in REEF’s mission and pointing out the best fish and creatures, but also helped us coordinate daily travel and restaurant jaunts. Roseau, Dominica’s capital, has that small town feel, very friendly and accommodating to us, and everyone knows each other. On our “off-gas’ day, many of us explored the inner island, climbing up to Trafalgar Falls where three freshwater fish were discovered; a freshwater Grunt, Goby and Suckerfish. We also ventured up the beautiful Titou Gorge. Dominica is a truly beautiful island with fantastic views, great diving and some of the friendliest people in the Caribbean - an island not to be missed.

REEF Field Surveys are week-long dive trips coordinated by REEF and led by experienced staff, Board members, and instructors. These "Trips that Count" are a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. Check out the 2010 schedule here and reserve your space today!

Marine Conservation Internship Program Is Back

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Fall 2010 REEF Interns, Nicole and Stephanie, after a survey dive.
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Summer 2010 Intern, Zach, demonstrates a lionfish dissection at REEF HQ.

REEF is excited to announce the revival of the Marine Conservation Internship Program at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo, Florida. The internship program was an important part of REEF's early history, with many past interns going on to have great careers in the field. Some have even spent time as REEF staff. The program was temporarily suspended a few years ago due to a lack of infrastructure. Thankfully, we have been able to bring the program back, providing significant benefits to both REEF and those who complete the program. Alecia Adamson, REEF Field Operations and Outreach Coordinator (and past REEF intern herself!), is in charge of overseeing the internship program and is pleased that REEF is once again able to offer the opportunity to college students and recent graduates.

Over the summer, Zachary Bamman, from University of Central Florida, assisted REEF with both the Great Annual Fish Count and lionfish reporting, research, and control. He was a great help during a very busy time for REEF. Zachary is now finishing a degree in Environmental Sciences and was able to obtain credit hours for an independent research project he conducted examining invertebrate vs. fish prey items in Florida Keys lionfish. REEF is pleased to welcome new interns Nicole Fabian and Stephanie Dreaver for the Fall semester. Both arrived to REEF Headquarters in September. Nicole graduated with a B.S. in Zoology-Marine Biology from Michigan State University in May. She went diving for the first time in 2000 on a trip to Grand Cayman and has since been hooked. Although she grew up in Michigan most of her diving has been in the Caribbean and has since received her Master Diver certification. She plans to pursue graduate level education in Marine Biology in the next coming year. Stephanie Dreaver graduated this past August from West Virginia University with a degree in Biology and she is very interested in the Marine Biology field. She has had an interest in diving and snorkeling ever since a family vacation to Hawaii 8 years ago. Her family relocated to Key Largo the next year and she has become familiar with Florida marine systems through firsthand experience. She obtained her open water certification 5 years ago and she has now reached Rescue Diver certification. She plans to continue her education next fall and pursue a Masters in Marine Biology.

If you or someone you know is interested in applying to be a future REEF Intern, visit the application page -- http://www.reef.org/about/internships/application.

Divers and Snorkelers Needed for Upcoming REEF Trips

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There are a few Field Survey trips in 2011 with spaces available. Please consider joining us in one of these great destinations – Maui, Roatan, and the Bahamas. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF staff lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule.

Maui, Hawaii – April 16-22 - The package includes 4 days of diving on the dramatic reefs off Lanai and west Maui with Extended Horizons, who operates one of the friendliest and most experienced scuba charter boat in Lahaina. They offer up to 33% more bottom time than other Lanai dive boats and their interpretive naturalist staff make this operation a perfect fit for a REEF group. We will also do several shore dives around the island. And with all of the beautiful beaches and land-based activities, this is a great destination for non-diving friends and family. Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Director of Science.

Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas – June 12-18 – The package includes 7 nights at Green Turtle Club and 6 days of 2 tank boat dives at Brandal’s Dive Shop. In addition to conducting fish surveys, this trip will help document the establishment and consequences of invasive lionfish in REEF’s ongoing effort to minimize the Indo-Pacific predator’s impact on native fish populations, including dissections of specimens to document prey. Led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects.

Roatan, Honduras – July 30-August 6 – The package includes 7 nights accommodations at Anthony’s Key Resort, all meals, 3 single tank boat dives per day (6 days), 2 single tank boat night dives, a day excursion to Maya Key, and airport transfers. REEF is conducting this project at the invitation of the Roatan Marine Park to survey in the protected areas of the park to evaluate how the reserves are working. Led by Alecia Adamson, REEF Field Operations Coordinator.

View the entire REEF Trip schedule here -- http://www.reef.org/fieldsurveys/schedule. To inquire about a trip and to reserve your spot, contact the REEF Travel Consultant at Caradonna, 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com.

REEF Welcomes New General Manager

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When you call the REEF office, you may be greeted with a new voice. Please join us in welcoming Martha Klitzkie as the new General Manager. After completing a Bachelor of Arts from Warren Wilson College, a passion for marine education led her to serve as the Education Director at the Pigeon Key Foundation in Marathon, Florida. She later went on to direct a larger marine education program based at Camp Ocean Pines, located on the central coast of California. During this time she also completed a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership and Administration from Argosy University. But a love for the Florida Keys and its coral reefs brought her back home to the sunshine state to join the REEF team. As the General Manager, Martha supervises a variety of activities necessary to the day-to-day operations at REEF. Welcome, Martha!

Putting it to Work: Study Documents Decline in Bahamian Fish Populations Due to Lionfish Predation

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REEF data showing increase of lionfish in New Providence, Bahamas, between 2004 and 2010.

There is growing concern that lionfish will affect the structure and function of invaded marine ecosystems. REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, is a co-author on a recently published paper evaluating these effects. The study was published in the scientific journal, PLoS ONE. Lead author, Stephanie Green, from Simon Fraser University (SFU), along with Akins and other co-authors Aleks Maljković (SFU), and Isabelle Côté (SFU), documented a dramatic 65% decline in 42 species of reef fish eaten by lionfish over a two year period. The study, conducted off New Providence Island in the Bahamas, used data collected during REEF's volunteer lionfish projects to track the explosion of the lionfish population over time, and reveals that lionfish biomass increased from 23% to nearly 40% of the predator biomass on the study sites between 2008 and 2010. This study represents the first documented direct impact of lionfish predation on native reef fishes and highlights the importance of control programs to minimize impacts. You can find a link to this and all published papers that have included REEF data on our Publications page.

Putting It To Work: REEF Data Used in New Publication on Hamlets

A newly described species, the Florida Barred Hamlet (H. floridae). The species is distinguished by the two spots at the base of the tail. Photo by Kevin Bryant (Creative Commons).
The wide-spread Caribbean Barred Hamlet (H. puella). Photo by Paul Humann.
The Contoy Hamlet (H. ecosur) has so far only been found on the northern Yucatan peninsula. Photo from video by Bruce Carlson
Another look at the Florida Barred Hamlet (H. floridae). Photo by Paul Humann.

New research using powerful genetic techniques and the REEF survey data have revealed two new species of hamlet in the Caribbean. The findings were recently published by scientist Ben Victor in the Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation. As our Caribbean surveyors know, hamlets are a group of colorful small sea basses that can sometimes cause ID confusion because of their myriad of colors and patterns. The varied color patterns in these small predators are thought to be a result of mimicry of other colorful but more innocuous herbivore species. There has been ongoing debate about which are actual species and which are simply just color variants or morphotypes. Ben's research revealed significant genetic differences among what seemed to simply be variations of the well-known Barred Hamlet. Ben stated that "the REEF database supplied valuable survey data indispensable to understanding ranges and abundances and unmatched in its comprehensive coverage".

The two new species are the Florida Barred Hamlet, Hypoplectrus floridae, and the Contoy Hamlet, H. ecosur. The typical Barred Hamlet (H. puella) that is found throughout the Caribbean will be updated in the REEF database to be called the Caribbean Barred Hamlet. Florida Barred Hamlet have been found in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and South Florida, and overlaps in range with the Caribbean Barred Hamlet in those areas. To date, the Contoy Hamlet has only been documented on Isla Contoy near the northern tip of the Yucatan peninsula and maybe Isla Mujeres. Florida Barred Hamlet are distinguished by a pair of symmetrical dark spots at the base of the caudal fin along with a break in the mid-body narrow bar. The Contoy Hamlet is distinguished by the same paid of dark spots at the base of the tail as well as a series of additional dark spots along the upper caudal peduncle and below the dorsal fin. A PDF of Ben's paper can be found online here, and it includes many pictures of the new species. Video of the Contoy Hamlet has been posted on Youtube.

REEF surveyors in the regions of the new species are encouraged to learn the differences and being reporting them as distinct species using the Unlisted Species section of the online data form. To see a list of a all scientific publications that have included REEF data and projects, visit our Publications Page.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub