Annual REEF Monitoring Projects in the Pacific Northwest

A YOY Canary Rockfish, one of many seen during 2016 summer projects in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Janna Nichols.
One of REEF's AAT members, Greg Jensen, finishes off a survey dive. Photo by Janna Nichols.

We recently conducted the 2016 surveys on two important long-term monitoring projects in Washington State. Data have been processed, and results are available for viewing. One of the most surprising results was the high abundance of many species of Young-of-the-Year (YOY, aka baby) Rockfish seen on both projects. This is a very unusual sighting, and possibly a good sign for things to come for these threatened species.

The first project is the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary monitoring project, started in 2003. REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) divers annually monitor fish and invertebrates in this remote area of rugged Washington State coastline. The team documented 100 species of fish and invertebrates, as well as YOY of 10 different rockfish species. Data for 2016 may be viewed here.

The second project began in 2013, and monitors fish and invertebrates in Washington State's San Juan Islands, which are centrally located within the Salish Sea. This project is done in conjunction with the SeaDoc Society, and also uses the AAT members within the region. Data for this project may now be viewed here. Annual results from this project have been important in tracking the spread of Sea Star Wasting disease.

Thanks to our many divers who lent their expertise in diving and identifying fish and invertebrates underwater, as well as the dive charters and donors who help fund these critical projects.

Putting it to Work: New Publication on Method to Create Species Maps for Fisheries Management

Gag Grouper, one of the species mapped in the Gruss et al paper. Photo by Carol Cox.

We are excited to share the latest scientific paper to include REEF data, published this month in the journal ICES Journal of Marine Science. In this paper, authors use information on where REEF divers did or did not encounter three species of fisheries importance: red snapper, red grouper, and gag grouper. They then combined these data with 36 other data sets, each sampling different areas of the Gulf of Mexico, and created distribution maps for use in ecosystem models of the Gulf of Mexico. These distribution maps picked up fish hotspots that are not identifiable by any individual data set, highlighting the complementary nature of the REEF data. The full citation of the paper is: Gruss, A., Thorson, J.T., Babcock, E.A., and Tarnecki, J.H. 2017. Producing distribution maps for informing ecosystem-based fisheries management using a comprehensive survey database and spatio-temporal models. – ICES Journal of Marine Science, doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsx120. Visit www.REEF.org/db/publications for an entire list of publications that include REEF data and programs.

Introduction

Hello and happy October! This edition will be REEF-in-Super-Brief since our biggest announcement - the launch of the new REEF.org website - will direct you to endless updates on REEF programs, new online tools, an improved REEF Store, and a new member-login that will allow you to get the most out of the new site. Visit www.REEF.org now!

If you're still with me, read on to learn about an exciting new artificial reef project REEF will embark on in 2008 with the sinking of the USAFS Vandenberg in Key West, Florida and REEF's participation in important inter-agency collaborative research on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in California. The third of six monitoring events at Biscayne National Park was recently completed; hats off to REEF staff Joe Cavanaugh and Lad Akins and Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) volunteers who served on this project amid challenging weather and personal circumstances.

Earlier this month, REEF lost a valuable partner and close personal friend. Mike "Smitty" Smith was a boat captain at Quiescence Diving Services in Key Largo, Florida and drove the boat for many local monitoring projects. His positive outlook and team spirit will be missed but we hope to honor his commitment to ocean conservation through REEF's continued work in the Florida Keys community.

"Best fishes" from the REEF family to yours,

 

Leda A. Cunningham, Executive Director

Holiday Open House A Swimming Success

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From left: Evelyn McGlone, Amy Slate and Steve Frink catch up while Lad Akins (rear) explains REEF to new members.

On Friday, November 30, REEF welcomed more than 100 local members and new friends to REEF HQ in Key Largo, Florida for the first annual Holiday Open House. The event was intended to raise awareness about REEF in the community and educate REEF neighbors about critical conservation projects going on in the Florida Keys. The first in a series of signed, limited edition Paul Humann prints was raffled off, authors and photographers Ned and Anna DeLoach signed books and everyone enjoyed celebrating the season with friends and fellow fish watchers.

If you find yourself in the Florida Keys, we hope you will swing by and say hello at 98300 Overseas Highway, Key Largo. Many thanks to the newly formed Key Largo Fun-raisers group for helping with this event: Amy Slate, Evelyn McGlone, Mary Powell, Amy Fowler, and Sharon Hauk.

Introduction

Hello and Happy April!

In this edition of REEF-in-Brief, learn about exciting work happening in the Turks and Caicos islands, new lionfish information and opportunities and the chance to help REEF collect data in the tropical eastern Pacific. REEF members recently helped the Northwest Straits Commission locate and remove a derelict fishing net in Hood Sound, Washington, while staff and volunteers made a splash at a south Florida Earth Day event. Please mark your calendars for the 17th Great Annual Fish Count (GAFC), taking place throughout the month of July. The GAFC is a great opportunity for fish watchers new and old to contribute to the largest marine life data collection event REEF holds all year.

My bittersweet news is that this is my last week at REEF. I will be staying in the marine conservation community here in the Florida Keys and will continue to support the critical work that REEF does. The Board of Trustees has identified a strong candidate for my replacement, details of which you will be provided soon. I sincerely appreciate the support each of you has shown REEF and hope our paths cross in the future. Until then, best wishes and best fishes,

Leda

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REEF Database Reaches New Milestones

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Over 8,500 volunteers have conducted 100,000 REEF surveys in the western Atlantic since 1993. Photo by Ned DeLoach.

Earlier this week, on March 3rd, 2009, the number of REEF surveys conducted by volunteers in the Tropical Western Atlantic (TWA) region (incl. the US East Coast, Caribbean, Bahamas, Gulf of Mexico) topped 100,000! The REEF Volunteer Survey Project database as a whole (including all regions) reached this benchmark in October 2006. The 100k surveys have been conducted by 8,582 volunteers at 6,203 sites in the TWA region. Other remarkable project milestones reached this week -- there are now two TWA surveyors who have conducted over 2,000 surveys each(!), many of our surveyors in the Pacific and Hawaii regions are about to surpass the 500 survey mark, and the number of surveys conducted in the Pacific region will soon exceed 15,000. Visit our Top 10 Stats page to see the most frequently sighted species, the most species-rich locations and our most active surveyors.

REEF's mission, to educate and enlist divers in the conservation of marine habitats, is accomplished primarily through the Volunteer Survey Project. 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, the Caribbean and Hawaii, as well as on selected invertebrate and algae species along the West Coast of the US and Canada. The data are collected using a fun and easy standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. These data are used by a variety of resource agencies and researchers. To find out more about who is using the data, visit the Publications page on the REEF website. The first surveys were conducted in 1993. As of February 2009, 125,717 surveys have been submitted to the REEF Survey Project database. Visit the About REEF page to find out more and to see where our volunteers are conducting surveys.

When Is a Blue Not a Blue

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Once thought to be a single species, Blue Rockfish are now being split into two. Photo by Dan Grolemund.
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This is a "blue-blotched" Blue Rockfish. Photo was taken off Dalli's Wall in Monterey, by Janna Nichols.
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This is a "blue-sided" Blue Rockfish. Photo was taken off Slant Rock in the Olympic Coast NMS, by Janna Nichols.

Just when you thought you had it all figured out, you realize there is more to learn. A few years ago, scientists working on Blue Rockfish genetics discovered that there were actually two species of Blues. After fishermen bagged both types off Eureka, California, and were able to correctly separate them by appearance, Drs. Tom Laidig and Milton Love wondered if they could be correctly identified by divers underwater, and in what range and depth they are found. What a perfect project for our west coast REEF surveyors.

Using photos taken by Pacific NW AAT members (Pete Naylor, Janna Nichols) in both Monterey and the Neah Bay area (on our annual REEF survey projects of these areas), they were able to determine that yes indeed, the two species of Blue Rockfish could be correctly ID’d underwater. Both species are being found along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts by fishermen. REEF surveyor Taylor Frierson has seen both species (in the same school!) while diving near Newport, Oregon. The Oregon Coast Aquarium has both species of Blue Rockfish on display in Halibut Flats – a good way to compare them.

Although the species has yet to be officially described, REEF is asking Pacific surveyors, whenever possible, to start separating the two into what for now will be called, “Blue Blotched” and “Blue Sided”. These new species are listed in the Unlisted Species section on the online data entry form. A general “Blue Rockfish” category will still exist if you’re unsure (the one listed on the Listed Species list). We are also asking surveyors who have photos from previous survey dives, to go through and if they can positively ID the species seen based on the photos, to submit the change to us at data@reef.org. Please include the survey number (if know), date, and location.

To help you ID the two species, here are some tips:

Blue Blotched:

  • Blotchy patterns on side
  • Body shape more symmetrical and rounded
  • Blue Sided:

  • More solid coloration of body
  • Lateral line more prominent
  • Body more elongated, flatter underside
  • Lower jaw juts out more
  •  

    Comparison photos may be seen here.

    The Survey Scoop!

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    You've done the survey, now what? Check out these FAQs. Photo by Paul Humann.
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    Data entered online at www.REEF.org/dataentry takes a few weeks to be added to the database.
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    You can view a lifelist of all species you have seen and where you have conducted surveys on REEF.org.
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    Did you see a rare fish that is not listed on the online form? These fish, like this blue croaker, can be added on the Unlisted Species page Photo by Paul Humann..

    Each month, we get questions from our surveying members about the ins and outs of conducting REEF surveys, submitting their data online, and accessing those data. Here's a compilation of some of the most frequently asked questions. The survey scoop -- all in one place!

    I’ve submitted my survey online – why can’t I see my data? Your data goes into a batch, which gets processed every few weeks. Not only does it go through computer error checks, but a live human checks it as well, and we may send an email to verify your sightings. Data submitted on paper forms take much longer (months, sorry!). So be extra patient on those.

    Once my data are processed, how can I see them? You can generate reports of your survey activity ("My Survey Log") and your species lifelist ("My Data") through the REEF website. You need to be logged in to REEF.org and then look on the left hand side of the page under your User Name. If you haven't yet created a REEF.org login, start here.

    Some fish I saw don’t appear in the Listed Species section on the online survey form. Now what? Only the most common fish in a region are listed on the online form to save space – but if you click on Unlisted Species link on the left side of the submission page, you can search the complete list that will most probably contain your species, and you can record it there. If you can't find it, email us at data@reef.org.

    I don’t see the invertebrate/algae I saw on the online survey form – now what? Remember that the REEF protocol only includes specific set of Invertebrates (PacNW, CAL) and algae (CAL) and they are listed both on the underwater survey paper, as well as the online submission form. If you don’t see it there, it isn’t monitored by REEF.

    What if the place I dove/snorkeled doesn’t have a geographic zone code assigned? Just email janna@reef.org with the name of the site, lats/longs (preferably in degrees/decimal minutes form) and most likely 4 digit zone code area it falls in, and it will get created for you. After confirmation, you’ll be able to submit your survey. To see a list of current Geographic Zone Codes, check here.

    Do I have to submit the lats/longs on each survey I do? No way! You can leave that section blank. You can also leave water temperature blank, but all other fields are required.

    I dove a site that was composed of many different habitat types. Which one do I mark? It’s a judgment call for this one – I usually just mark the habitat where I found the most species on my survey.

    I made a mistake on a survey I already submitted. Is it too late? Nope, it’s not too late. While you should try to avoid mistakes (because it’s a lot harder to change once it’s in the system), it is possible to correct and accuracy is always a good thing. Email us details.

    I forgot to turn in a few surveys from last year (or longer). Is it still OK to do so? Yes. Old data can still be submitted, but do try to keep current on your surveys so that those accessing the data are getting the most recent and accurate information available.

    Where can I take REEF Experience level tests? Find a Field Station near you – or email us at data@reef.org and we’ll find a way to make it possible.

    REEF Launches Long Awaited South Pacific Survey Program!

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    REEF's newest region -- the South Pacific!
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    One of REEF's newest surveyors and partners in American Samoa, Janet Faafoi (left), with long-time REEF volunteers in Hawaii, Patricia Richardson and Donna Brown.
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    Finding Leslie's Cardinalfish (Ostorhinchus leslie) was one of the fish highlights of the week. Past REEF staff member, Leslie Whaylen Clift, discovered this new species while working in American Samoa. Photo by Donna Brown.
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    The majestic Emperor Angelfish is found throughout the South Pacific region. Photo by Paul Humann.

    Last month, the launch of our 6th REEF survey region was a big success due to the combined efforts of our newest partners in American Samoa, and numerous volunteers and partners in the scientific community. Thanks to support from NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and other donors, we were able to bring fish ID training workshops and surveying opportunities to over two dozen local participants on the main island of Tutuila. The launch included distributing locally oriented underwater fish ID cards, underwater paper, and a number of Tropical Pacific Fish ID books to an enthusiastic group of local residents. Through meetings and trainings with staff at the Fagatelle Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, the National Park Service, the Coral Reef Advisory Group, local residents and business owners, we established a network of snorkelers and divers who will continue surveying at sites such as Alofau, Faga`alu, and Tisa’s Barefoot Bar at Alega Beach.

    At over 1,500 known reef fish species, the fish diversity of South Pacific coral reefs is higher than in the Caribbean. Our survey team definitely had our work cut out for us, but with the help of cameras, video, and the REEF training materials, we managed to positively identify over 200 species in a total of 60 surveys throughout the week. A few of the highlights included charismatic emperor angelfish (including a juvenile), saddled butterflyfish, mimic surgeonfish, longnose filefish, and Leslie’s cardinalfish - named after former REEF employee Leslie Whaylen Clift, who first discovered it in 2004 while living in American Samoa.

    Originally scheduled for last fall, this launch was delayed by the devastating tsunami that hit American Samoa, Samoa, and Tonga in September 2009, and evidence of the disaster was apparent with numerous toppled plate and branching corals at some of the sites. REEF surveys will provide important information about fish populations as the local reefs rebuild over the coming years.

    In the coming months, REEF will continue to grow the Samoa program with the help of local coordinators as our pilot region in the South Pacific, and has developed a curriculum that will be available soon on our website. Our next step in expanding into this vast region will be our first survey trip to the South Pacific in May 2011 to Fiji, where surveyors and will use a new set of survey materials designed for broad use throughout the South Pacific region. Click here for more information about this exciting field survey into our newest region, which will be led by Paul Humann.

    REEF’s Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, along with REEF Board of Trustee member Heather George, and longtime REEF science advisor, Dr. Brice Semmens, led the expedition. A big thank you to frequent Hawaii surveyors Donna and George Brown, and Pat Richardson, who also participated in this expedition. Thank you also to New World Publications, Leslie Whaylen Clift, Neil Ericcson, Dr. Jack Randall, and Doug Fenner, whose contributions to the development of these new materials has been invaluable. And we greatly appreciate the support of the many photographers who generously donated the use of their underwater images for use in our training materials: Donna Brown, Paul Brown, Joyce Burek, Bob Fenner, John Hoover, Paul Humann, Josh Jensen, Ed Robinson, Paddy Ryan, Keoki Stedner, and Marty Snyderman.

    If you would like to make a contribution specifically to support the South Pacific regional expansion, you can donate online here, or mail your donation to REEF HQ, PO Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037. Include “South Pacific Expansion” with your donation information.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub