REEF Joins in Submersible Expedition to Assess the Lionfish Invasion Beyond Diving Depths

REEF Affiliate Scientist, Dr. Stephanie Green inside the Antipodes sub.
Several dozen invasive lionfish call an artificial reef in South florida, the Bill Boyd, home off.

REEF's Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, and REEF affiliate scientist Dr. Stephanie Green (Oregon State University) and REEF Advisory Panel member Dr. Steve Gittings (NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries) participated in the first submersible expedition to assess the lionfish invasion on deep marine habitats off South Florida June 27-29. While REEF and other scientists have studied lionfish in shallow habitats, the Antipodes lionfish expedition gave scientists the opportunity to learn about lionfish populations far below recreational diving limits. The five person submersible is capable of descending to 300 m (1,000 ft) deep and has large acrylic domes that allow for observations and photography.

During the expedition, team members including Dr. Gittings and Dr. Green completed dives to 300ft in the submersible to look for lionfish on both natural rocky and artificial reefs, including the 209ft-long cargo ship Bill Boyd. Both scientists sighted dozens of invasive lionfish in all habitat types during the dive, highlighted by view of the stern of the wreck holding dozens of lionfish. Dr. Green also conducted a number of REEF surveys to document the native fish community in areas invaded by lionfish, sighting a number of reef fishes that are often only found below recreational dive limits, including snowy grouper, roughtongue bass, red barbier, short bigeye, and bank butterflyfish.

The project, hosted by NOVA Southeastern University, was led by OceanGate Inc. and included participants from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, University of Miami, NOVA, and Guy Harvey Foundation, and others. On Saturday following the expedition dives, Lad Akins, Dr. Green, and Dr. Gittings met with media and the public in a half-day summit to discuss the invasion and potential actions to manage lionfish populations in areas that can't regularly be accessed by divers. The summit concluded with a lionfish filleting demonstration by Lad, and a tasting of lionfish ceviche prepared by Kareem Anguin, Executive Chef, The Oceanaire Seafood Room. See the expedition website for more information.

As part of a Florida Sea Grant funded project, REEF is working this summer to assess deepwater lionfish populations in the Florida Keys using ROVs and technical divers.

Please Support REEF and Our Important Marine Conservation Work

Be a part of our new Giving Reef! Donate $500 or more during our winter fundraising campaign.

We want to extend a special thanks to our members who have already made a donation during our Winter Fundraising Campaign. If you haven't yet, please take a moment to support REEF's critical marine conservation work. You can contribute securely online at www.REEF.org/contribute or call REEF Headquarters at 305-852-0030.

With your support, we will build on twenty years of success. In 2014, REEF plans to: 

  • Encourage use of REEF data to provide species and habitat protections, like those afforded this year to Giant Pacific Octopus in Washington State, Hogfish, Goliath Grouper, and Yellowtail Snapper populations
  • Promote the new fish and invertebrate monitoring program in the South Atlantic States
  • Expand the Volunteer Fish Survey Project to Australia, the Coral Triangle, the North East Atlantic, and the Mediterranean
  • Continue the Nassau Grouper educational program and analyze data collected this year from recently deployed underwater microphones
  • Lead the charge in addressing the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean and Atlantic

Give a gift to our oceans by supporting REEF programs. This year, we also have gifts to give in appreciation of your donation, which include a print of a limited edition, signed print of Sailfin Blenny ($250 or more), acknowledgement on the Giving REEF ($500 or more), and a special webinar with Ned and Anna DeLoach ($1,000 or more).

Great Annual Fish Count is Coming

The 22nd annual Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC) is rapidly approaching! Will you be participating? We encourage local shops, dive clubs, and other groups to organize an activity anytime during the month of July (and often training events in June). You can view events already scheduled, and add your own, by visiting www.fishcount.org.

The concept behind the GAFC is to not only accumulate large numbers of surveys during the month of July, but to introduce divers and snorkelers to Fishwatching and conducting REEF surveys. Interested groups can offer free fish ID classes, organize dive/snorkel days, and turn them into fun gatherings! To find out more, contact us at gafc@reef.org.

Putting It To Work: New Publication on the Role of Citizens in Detecting and Responding to a Rapid Marine Invasion

An invasive lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Carol Cox.

A recent publication in the scientific journal, Conservation Letters, examined the invasion of lionfish in to the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters. The authors compared traditional reef fish monitoring efforts to less traditional data including the observations of divers through REEF's Volunteer Fish Survey Project and spearfishers. They found that citizen observations documented lionfish 1-2 years earlier and more frequently than the more traditional monitoring efforts. The authors also explored the willingness of spearfishers to help minimize impacts of the invasion by harvesting lionfish. They found that spearfishers who had encountered more lionfish while diving perceived them as more harmful to the habitat than less experienced divers and were also more likely to participate in harvesting initiatives. The authors also report that encouragement from scientists and managers was a far better motivator than the desire to harvest lionfish for personal consumption. This study demonstrates the value of engaging citizens for assessing and responding to large-scale and time-sensitive conservation problems. Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications to see this and all of the scientific publications that have included REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project data.

California Fishinars

Opalescent Nudibranch is one of the species monitored by REEF divers in California, and one that will be covered in the upcoming series. Photo by Elaine Jobin.

Are you a California diver? Or perhaps simply an ocean enthusiast wanting to learn more about critters that call the California kelp forests home? Then be sure to check out the upcoming Fishinar schedule. Whether you've attended one of our famous Fishinars (REEF's version of an online webinar) before or not, you're sure to enjoy one of our upcoming free classes! From the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go on your mobile device, you can join in the camaraderie of your fellow fish-fanatics and learn from experts in our short, free, fun and interactive-styled Fishinars. Check out www.REEF.org/fishinars for more information. 

Upcoming California Fishinars include:

  • Invertebrates and Algae of REEF's California Survey Project - This four class series (September 8, 10, 14, 16) will cover all 63 of the invertebrates and algae included in REEF's California survey program.
  • Islands in the Stream: Fish of the California Channel Islands - October 20

A few other Caribbean Fishinars are scheduled this Fall as well, including:

  • The Nightstalkers! Eels of the Caribbean - September 30
  • The Ones You Should Know: Top 25 Fishes of the Caribbean - November 16

Upcoming Fishinars: Philippines and Ray Troll!

We are excited to welcome Ray Troll back for his second Fishinar. Don't miss this one on cool and wacky sharks. Photo by Bob Hallinen.

Our 2016 Fishinar schedule is in full swing, and we invite everyone to join in the fun of learning fish ID in the convenience of your home, with these energetic and informative online webinars. Our Fishinars are free to REEF members, interactive (so you don't fall asleep), and chock full of tips and tricks to help you learn fish ID in many areas of the world.

This month we have three Fishinars on the calendar. First is a repeat visit from artist and fish geek extraordinaire, Ray Troll. After that, Christy Semmens will be teaching about fishes found in two distinctly different habitat types (muck and reef) in the Philippines.

  • Thursday, March 17th, 2016 - Cool Sharks! with Ray Troll
  • Monday, March 21st, 2016 - Common Reef Fishes of Tubbataha Reef, Philippines
  • Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016 - Fishes of the Philippines' Muck

 

Register and get more details here: www.REEF.org/fishinars. We hope to 'see' you online!

Where and When Are REEF Surveys Conducted

REEF Survey Project Regions

Did you know? While the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project was started in South Florida in 1993, today it has been expanded worldwide! REEF surveys are conducted as part of a diver's regular diving activities; anytime they are in the water, in any of these regions. And more regions are coming soon.

REEF's Survey Project areas:

  • Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA; Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas, and Gulf of Mexico), 
  • South Atlantic States (SAS; Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina)
  • Northeast US & Canada (NE; Virginia through Newfoundland)
  • Eastern Atlantic & Mediterranean (EAM; Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Cape Verde Islands, and Mediterranean)
  • West Coast of the United States and Canada (PAC; California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia)
  • Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP; Sea of Cortez to the Galapagos Islands).
  • Hawaiian Islands (HAW; main islands and the Northwest Hawaiian Islands)
  • South Pacific (SOP; Fiji, Samoan Archipelago, Line Islands, Cook Islands)
  • Central Indo-Pacific (CIP; Indonesia, Solomon Islands, Australia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan)

To find out more about the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project, visit www.REEF.org/programs/volunteersurvey.

2017 REEF Trips Spotlight: Turks and Caicos and Galapagos Islands

Join us for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Galapagos this May.
Explore the beautiful turquoise waters of the Turks and Caicos with REEF.
REEF Trips are a great way to explore and discover.

Have you checked out REEF’s 2017 Field Survey Trip schedule? This year, we are traveling to so many exciting destinations all over the world, from tropical reefs in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific, to the colder waters of the Canadian Pacific coast. This month we are highlighting two of our fish survey trips happening this May: the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Galapagos Islands! We have limited spaces remaining on both of these trips, and are looking for enthusiastic divers and surveyors to join us. As an added bonus, the Trip Leaders for each of these trips are hosting Fishinars – fun, free, fish identification-themed webinars, that you can tune into from the comfort of your home!

Spaces are limited, so book your spot today! Contact Trips@REEF.org for more information. And visit www.REEF.org/trips for the full 2017 schedule.

Turks and Caicos, May 6-13, Dive Provo and Ports of Call Resort (details)

Both beginning and advanced REEF surveyors will enjoy expanding their fish identification skills in this beautiful tropical setting, with fish ID reviews led each evening by REEF Trips Program Manager and expert Tropical Western Atlantic surveyor, Amy Lee. There is no need for your non-diving companions to stay at home either – Providenciales is easily accessible from many US-based airports, with several major airlines offering daily flights. Ports of Call Resort was recently renovated, and now has modern rooms and a luxurious pool area. The resort is only steps away from dock leading to the gorgeous white sand of Grace Bay Beach, awarded the designation of TripAdvisor’s Best Beach in the World in 2016. Dive Provo is known for excellent service and concierge diving. The owners are longtime REEF supporters and the week’s dive itinerary will include a variety of the reefs surrounding the islands, including West Caicos, Northwest Point, and French Cay.

And be sure to join us for the Fishinar on Monday, April 10: "Overlooked Fish of Turks and Caicos". Visit www.REEF.org/fishinars to sign up.

Galapagos Islands, May 14-21, M/V Galapagos Sky (details)

REEF’s inaugural Field Survey Trip to the Galapagos Islands is led by REEF Director of Science, and expert on Tropical Eastern Pacific fishes, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. Known as Darwin’s “living laboratory,” the entire archipelago is a National Park and marine reserve filled with plenty of endemic species, not found anywhere else on the planet. Observe penguins swimming with tropical fish, iguanas feeding underwater and swim beside giant whale sharks and Galapagos sharks. Lucky attendees on this trip will visit the Wolf and Darwin Islands, which boast some of the best diving in the world, while enjoying three land-based excursions throughout the week to Bartolome, the highlands of Santa Cruz and Puerto Ayora, and San Cristobal. The dive team aboard the M/V Galapagos Sky are Galapagos National Park naturalist certified to offer expert guidance both underwater and on land.

And be sure to join us for the Fishinar on Wednesday, May 3: "Fishes in the Land of Finches". Visit www.REEF.org/fishinars to sign up.

Putting it to Work: Who's Using REEF Data, June 2017

REEF data on California Sea Cucumber were provided to a researcher from Pacific Shellfish Institute to evaluate the status of the species in the REEF Pacific region. Photo by Steve Lonhart.

Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Recent examples of data requests and uses include:

- A researcher from the Ecology and Evolution Program at Rutgers University is using REEF data to understand bio-cultural homogenization on reefs.

- REEF data on California Sea Cucumber were provided to a researcher from Pacific Shellfish Institute to evaluate the status of the species in the REEF Pacific region (California through Alaska).

- REEF data on a wide variety of predatory fish species were provided to a graduate student at Florida Gulf Coast University who is researching the biogeography of ciguatera-causing dinoflagellates in the Florida Keys.

- Data from Mike's Beach in Washington State was provided to a PhD student at Oregon State in Fisheries in order to evaluate status and trends at that popular dive site.

Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) Wrap-Up for July

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Upper Keys AAT - Mike Smith, Brian Hufford, Joe Cavanaugh, Marissa Nuttall, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Brenda Hitt
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Middle Keys AAT - Brian Hufford, Joe Cavanaugh, Marissa Nuttall, Paige Switzer, Wayne Manning, Brenda Hitt, and Ann Outlaw
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Joe Cavanaugh, Brian Hufford, Dave Grenda, Erin Whitaker, Mike Phelan, and Brenda Hitt

REEF completed two Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) projects this past month, the Wellwood Monitoring Project and the Spiegel Grove Monitoring Project.  Many of you may not know about REEF's AAT program, please check this link to learn more about this very important REEF program - http://www.reef.org/member/aat.htm.  Essentially, as REEF members gain more experience identifying fish and conducting surveys, they can move through our experience level testing and hopefully achieve expert status, after which time these members are invited to participate in special monitoring and assessment projects with REEF staff.  To learn more about our experience level testing, please click here - http://www.reef.org/member/experience.htm.

Both the Wellwood and Spiegel projects were 5-year AAT assessments.  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. Our final assessment was completed on July 29th.

The final Spiegel Grove AAT was completed on August 8th. The Spiegel Grove is a 510' LSD that was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef structure in the waters between Molasses Reef and Elbow Reef in Key Largo, Florida, in May 2002.  Previous to the May 16, 2006 sinking of the Oriskany (aircraft carrier), the Spiegel Grove was 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 UKARF contracted REEF to conduct pre-deployment and periodic monitoring of the Spiegel Grove and adjacent natural and artificial reef sites.  Monitoring documented fish presence/absence and relative abundance at 8 sites during 7 monitoring events in Year 1 and then bi-annually thereafter for four years. Thank you to all the AAT members, who over the past 5 years contributed to either of these survey efforts.

I also want to send out a BIG thank you to everyone who helped out on our AAT projects the past few weeks.  In addition to the Wellwood and Spiegel projects above, we completed our annual middle and upper Keys Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary assessments - 12 days straight!  Specifically, I would like to thank Horizon, Paradise, and Quiescence Divers dive shops, and the following individuals, a couple of whom did all 12 days of AAT project diving- Dave Grenda, Brenda Hitt, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, Ann Outlaw, Mike Phelan, and our two past interns (newest AAT members) - Marissa Nuttall and Paige Switzer.

Our next AAT project will be the Biscayne National Park AAT in early October (team already assembled).  Also, the Hoyt Vandenberg will present an exciting and new AAT project for REEF beginning next year.  Currently the ship is being prepared for sinking in Norfolk, VA.  It's due to be brought down to the Keys in January (08) and deployed in early April, about 6 miles off the coast of Key West http://www.fla-keys.com/news/news.cfm?sid=1854.  We are currently finalizing our monitoring plan for this vessel and will be monitoring this newest artificial reef over the next 5 years, beginning in early spring with a pre-deployment event.  You will hear more about this project in the coming months.

Hope to see you in the water soon.

Best "fishes,"

Joe

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