The idea of an annual fish monitoring came over 25 year ago, with the first official Great American Fish Count (GAFC) in 1992. Dr. Gary Davis led the Channel Islands National Park effort as way to encourage sport divers to report fish sightings. The small number of marine scientists, the immensity of the oceans and the scarcity of funding required that volunteers be trained to assist with a nation-wide fish monitoring effort.
The use of volunteers to monitor animal species has proven to be extremely successful. The GAFC was modeled after the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which continues to play a significant role in documenting and raising awareness of the declining populations of migratory birds, and has helped reduce destruction of their habitat.
The first GAFC event was held at Anacapa Island, California with fifty participants. The event was focused during the first two weeks of July to attempt to capture as many divers as possible and attract media attention. The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary joined in 1994. By 1995, the GAFC had become a coordinated effort between the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The ultimate goal of the GAFC was to have divers become interested enough in fish monitoring to map and adopt sites that could then be visited year-round.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Sanctuary Program expressed interest in the GAFC and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) working together to support and promote volunteer fish monitoring throughout the entire Sanctuary program. By the end of 1997, the GAFC evolved into a national event held during July of each year coordinated by American Oceans Campaign, REEF, and NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program. By 1999, REEF became the sole organizer of the GAFC with continued partnership with and NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program.
In 2001, a full-time dedicated staff was hired to managed the logistics and planning of the GAFC thanks to the Curtis & Edith Munson Foundation, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and PADI Project Aware. The 2001 event was a huge success. The number of seminars quadrupled and many dives were conducted throughout the nation, Canada, and in the Caribbean. Many GAFC dives were conducted within National Marine Sanctuaries, such as Florida Keys, Gray's Reef, Stellwagen Bank, Flower Garden Banks, Monterey, Channel Islands, and Hawaii. Approximately 900 people participated and over 1,900 surveys were conducted during the July event that year.
Due to the increased participation and overwhelming response and commitment from REEF's Survey Project regions throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of California, and British Columbia, in 2002, the Great American Fish Count officially changed its name to the Great Annual Fish Count.
Today, REEF is the sole coordinator for the event which continues to grow and brings in approximately 2,000 marine life surveys in the month of July alone. These efforts reach hundreds of volunteers throughout REEF's survey regions in dozens of countries. 17th GAFC this year in 2008 is sure to be a great one - get involved!
While every one of REEF’s 10,000+ volunteers who have conducted a survey as part of the Volunteer Survey Project are Making Dives That Count, there is a small cadre of surveyors who have taken their passion for fish and critter watching to the next level. They are the volunteers, those most active in each of REEF’s project regions, who have actively strived to move through the REEF Experience Level system, often becoming REEF Experts and members of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT). And among this group, there are a handful of surveyors who have reached a significant benchmark – the 1,000 survey mark! Passing this benchmark gets you a place in the REEF Golden Hamlet Club. And this Summer, REEF welcomes two new GHC members - Bruce Purdy and Dave Grenda. They join Peter Leahy, Linda Baker, Lad Akins, Judie Clee, Linda Ridley, and Linda Schillinger.
Bruce Purdy is the owner/operator of the Bahamas diving liveaboards Aquacat, Cat Ppalu and Blackbeard's Cruises. He's been a REEF member since 1994 and a member of REEF's Tropical Western Atlantic AAT since 2002. Bruce is a staunch conservationist and has been integral in supporting REEF's lionfish work in the Bahamas. In addition to his work with REEF assessments and lionfish projects, he has also pioneered sea urchin restoration efforts in the Bahamas. Even though he has reached the milestone of 1,000 surveys, Bruce continues to encourage his diver to join him in surveying Bahamian reefs and supporting REEF's conservation projects - Way to go Bruce!!!
Dave Grenda has been a REEF member since 1998, and is one of the very few of our volunteers who have conducted REEF surveys in all four regions -- Tropical Western Atlantic, Tropical Eastern Pacific, West Cost of the US, and Hawaii! He joined the Tropical Western Atlantic AAT in 2001 and has participated in multiple AAT special projects. Dave is also a NOAA Science Diver and has participated in multiple NOAA research cruises in National Marine Sanctuaries. Most recently, Dave started helping with the REEF Grouper Moon Project and just returned from a few weeks on Grand Cayman helping to tag Nassau grouper. His passion for fishwatching shines through on projects and he is always eager to share the joy of a new find. In his "other" life, Dave is a retired Air Force Colonel. Way to go Dave!!!
After many years of planning, financial woes and last minute negotiations, it appears that the Hoyt S Vandenberg, a 520-foot troop transport/missile tracking military vessel, will be sunk as the newest artificial reef in the Florida Keys. Recent communication with the State of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission has given the go ahead for REEF to initiate pre-deployment monitoring of the sinking site and 7 other adjacent reef areas to study the recruitment and movement of fish around the wreck and reef sites.
The one year study will also include surveys of non-native orange cup coral, titan acorn barnacle and Indo-Pacific lionfish. While exact dates have not been set for the sinking, plans are for the ship, located now in Virginia to be towed to Key West in early April and then scuttled 6 miles offshore in May. REEF Advanced Assessment Teams will survey the sites prior to deployment, then again one month following the sinking and quarterly through the remainder of year one. It is anticipated that the wreck will provide significant habitat for fish as well as additional recreational opportunities for fishing and diving activities. Data gathered during REEF’s efforts will aid in determining how effective the ship is in meeting its biological objectives.
For more information on the Vandenberg fish survey project, contact Lad Akins, Lad@reef.org (305) 852-0030.
One of the best parts about fishwatching is that no matter how many surveys you have under your belt, there's always a chance to see something unexpected. Recently I was diving on Davey Crocker Reef near Tavernier in the Florida Keys with four REEF surveyors. As often happens, we got separated, me with my photography and the others surveying. I spotted a brown fish about 8 inches long “drifting” in the water just under a ledge overhang. It sort of looked like a croaker to me, but not one that I recognized. I photographed it from a distance and continued to photograph while moving closer. The fish remained still, just looking at me. Finally, when I got about 6 feet away it retreated into the gloom under the ledge.
Back on the boat we were talking fish -- as usual. One of the others commented about a strange brown fish she had seen under a ledge. It turns out everyone had seen it and no one knew what it was. The entire group were members of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team (AAT, Expert Surveyors), so no one knowing is surprising. After downloading my photos, I researched the mystery fish. My hunch was correct; it was a Croaker, a rarely seen Blue Croaker, Bairdiella batabana. These were the first sightings of this species to go into the REEF database!
So how do you know if it's a Blue Croaker? The body coloration can be copperish to bluish brown. The only distinctive marking is a white crease on the gill cover.
REEF is proud to release the latest version in our series of instructional marine life identification courses – Fishwatching in California. The California curriculum consists of three courses on one CD – divided into Southern California, Channel Islands, and Central/Northern California. Pictures and text are included and are geared for anyone interested in teaching Fish ID – ideal for dive shops and instructors, dive clubs, marine science centers and aquariums, and other groups. This course completes the library of West Coast curricula: California Fish ID, California Invertebrates and Algae, Pacific Northwest Fish, and Pacific Northwest Invertebrates. We would like to thank all of the photographers who generously donated underwater images for these courses!
These instructor-led courses are a great way to introduce divers and snorkelers to the variety of marine life that can be seen during their time in the water. Each module contains a CD-ROM with images with an easy-to-use teaching curriculum to train students in identification and REEF survey methodology. A sample starter kit is also included. Courses can be taught in approximately 2-3 hours and cover 50-70 of the most common species for an area.
The California Fish ID curriculum, along with all of the other curricula modules, are available online in REEF's store here -- http://www.reef.org/node/437
Lionfish Derby T-Shirt Available Through REEF Store - The special edition Florida Keys Lionfish Derby T-shirts are available through the store while supplies last. Check out the REEF Store today for REEF gear, survey supplies, books, and more.
New REEF Field Stations - This past month, we welcomed the following to our growing list of Field Stations. They join over 200 Field Stations and Independent Instructors worldwide.
Fish & Friends Monthly Speaker Series - Every month, on the second Tuesday of the month, REEF hosts an engaging speaker and social hour as part of our Fish and Friends series. The monthly seminars are held at REEF Headquarters in Key Largo, FL. October's speaker is Steven Frink, who will be presenting "Reflections From The Road----Images and Observations from 3 Decades as an Underwater Photojournalist." Everyone is welcome. We hope you will join us.
REEF Field Survey Schedule 2011 Posted Online - Now is the time to plan your next "dive trip that counts". REEF Field Surveys 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. 2011 destinations include many exciting locations that offer great diving and prime fishwatching experiences, including the San Blas Islands in Panama, Saba, Hawaii, and for the first time, a South Pacific destination -- Fiji! REEF staff, board members, and other REEF instructors lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Check out the schedule on the REEF Trips page.
Become a Fan of REEF on Facebook -The REEF Facebook Page is a place to find the latest information about our programs and events, REEF's marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories and whatever is on their mind. Become a "Fan" today!
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
This month we feature Eco-Dives in Key West, Florida, which has been a Field Station since 2010. Eco-Dives owner, Rob McCall, is fascinated by learning and finding new species and enjoys sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with others. Rob has been a REEF surveyor since 2001 so it was a natural to incorporate REEF into his business. Eco-Dives primarily teaches advanced open-water scuba certifications because it enables them to focus on fun courses such as underwater photography and the REEF Fish ID specialty. Eco-dives was also one of the first dive operators to offer a Lionfish Diver specialty that teaches divers the basics of the lionfish invasion, why it is so detrimental to our reefs, and how to report sightings.
“Out of 775 REEF survey dives and countless other dives with students, the most unusual fish we have found on our dives has been a pugjaw wormfish.” says Rob. Fortunately Rob was able to snap a couple pictures of it to confirm the identification of such a unique fish. Rob's sighting was only the sixth time that species had ever been reported on a REEF survey.
Although Key West is not known for its pristine reefs, Rob says the dive sites are convenient, the reefs are well-populated with small-to-medium size fish, and they have mature wrecks with plenty of big fish. The newest addition to the armada of artificial reefs in the Keys, the Vandenberg, is a great dive and a fish magnet. REEF has been monitoring the Vandenberg since it was sunk and Rob has been a great help on a number of the Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveys documenting reef fish recruitment over time.
Rob says that he "really enjoys working with REEF surveyors; they are always so enthusiastic. Doing surveys has made me look much harder at fish, looking for distinguishing features so I can identify them. This results in you seeing so much more during a dive."
Thanks to everyone who donated during our Summer Campaign, you helped us reach our goal. REEF members contributed over $34,770, with a generous match of $30,000 from the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, for a grand total of $64,770. REEF will use these donations to maintain our current programs and expand our special projects, the Grouper Moon Project and the Lionfish Research Program. Donations from our members make it possible for REEF to carry out our mission of conserving marine ecosystems. Thank you!
Don't forget to check out the 2012 REEF Field Survey Trips! The schedule and more details are posted online at www.REEF.org/trips. We have an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. Many are starting to fill up so don't delay.
Have you checked out our new innovative online Fish Identification "Fishinars"(aka webinars)? These fun and short (45 minute) sessions are a great way to learn marine life ID from the comfort of your home. And they are free. The schedule is available at www.reef.org/resources/webinars. We are always adding more sessions, so check back often.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. Our fintastically outstanding field station this month is the Maui FIN (Fish Identification Network) group in Hawaii. This enthusiastic group of divers and snorkelers has been going strong for years. They meet on the 2nd Saturday of each month to conduct surveys at different spots around Maui. After introducing REEF to the Hawaiian Islands 10 years ago, Donna Brown and Liz Foote (who taught our online Hawaiian Fishinar last week), started building a team of enthusiastic fish surveyors. It was out of that enthusiasm that surveyor Mike Fausnaugh started the FIN group. Flo Bahr and Rick Long have been longtime active leaders of the group. When snorkeling, they all put orange duct tape at the tops of their snorkels. This helps the group find each other while in the water, as well as make them easy to spot from the beach. Tourists also ask about what they're doing and this helps show how many are out there doing REEF surveys. In addition to the monthly FIN survey dives, they maintain a Facebook page for the group that serves as a great communication tool. Through the Facebook page, they organize their next survey spots, share zone codes, spread announcements, and post photos and mystery fish questions. Keep up the enthusiastic surveying, FINsters!
The 21st annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) took place in July, with many dive shops, dive clubs, and other groups organizing fish ID classes, dive /snorkel days, BBQs and more fun gatherings. The concept behind the GAFC is not only to accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers/snorkelers to fishwatching and get them started doing REEF surveys. Groups from California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maine, Hawaii, Florida, North Carolina, and new to the event in 2012 - New Brunswick, all participated! Once again, this year's largest one day event was held in the Northeast, coordinated by the New England Dive Club. Thank you to ALL participants, and we hope you'll continue conducting REEF surveys on your dives year round!