Thank You For Helping Us Reach Our Goal

On behalf of our current, past, and future REEF Marine Conservation Interns, we would like to thank all those who donated during our Spring fundraising campaign to support our internship program. Thanks to the generous contributions of many members, we reached (and surpassed) our goal, raising $10,196! These funds will help ensure that we can continue this important program and support these enthusiastic young professionals as they gain critical career skills. Although less known, the REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program is one of our most successful endeavors. Our interns are a key part of ensuring smooth operations at REEF Headquarters, as they contribute in so many ways to the daily tasks and activities required to manage REEF’s important programs. Through experiences gained and connections made during their internship, many of our interns have gone on to work at government agencies or other non-profit organizations. Others have gone on to complete graduate programs focused on ocean issues. And several of them have come back to work at REEF!

REEF Sponsors Grouper Education Workshop

Educators learned a Food Web Game classroom activity that is part of the Grouper Education Program curriculum. REEF Educator, Todd Bohannon, demonstrates how the food web connections are represented by yarn strung between different members of the coral reef community.
Mr. Bradley Johnson, from Cayman Islands Department of Environment, presenting information to educators during the Grouper Education Workshop on Cayman Brac.
Two students participating in the Grouper Education Program.

On December 3rd and 5th, REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DOE) held free educator workshops on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands. The professional development workshops presented the Grouper Education Program, a marine sciences curriculum for intermediate/elementary and high school students that was developed as part of the Grouper Moon Project. Nineteen teachers from 12 schools participated, including 2 schools from the Bahamas. Participants received the materials and resources necessary for successfully implementing the Grouper Education Program in their classrooms. This exciting project focuses on bringing the Nassau Grouper into classrooms through lesson plans and interactive live-feed video sessions that connect classrooms with Grouper Moon scientists in the field.

The curriculum presents a multi-faceted view of Nassau Grouper, in which students create their own understanding of this important fish. Key curricular concepts include the historical role of the species as an artisanal fishery throughout the Caribbean region, the grouper’s value as a keystone predator and its impact on local reef health, its role in today’s tourism-based economy in the Cayman Islands and throughout the Caribbean, and the conservation challenges facing Nassau Grouper given steep declines in populations. In addition to classroom lessons, the program includes live-feed video sessions that take place at the Grouper Moon Project research site on Little Cayman, bringing real-world field science into the classroom.

The Grouper Education Program is supported by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. In-kind logistics and technical support for the workshops was provided by Cayman Airways, Brac Reef Beach Resort, and LIME. The program curriculum was developed to complement the research and scientific efforts of the Grouper Moon Project. Grouper Moon educator, Todd Bohannon, along with Grouper Moon scientists Brice Semmens, Ph.D. (Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Christy Pattengill-Semmens, Ph.D. (REEF), and Mr. Bradley Johnson (DOE), have led the educational effort. Activities were developed in consultation with teachers at Cayman Prep on Grand Cayman, Verity Redrup and Brenda Bryce, and Cynthia Shaw, author of the youth fictional book, Grouper Moon. To find out more about the Grouper Moon Project, visit www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject.

Fishinars in the New Year

Learn how to tell Black Rockfish from Blue Rockfish, and other lookalikes. Photo by Janna Nichols.

We have just the thing for after the holiday rush is over -- free, educational REEF Fishinars. These hour-long sessions let you learn and have fun from the comfort of your living room. Check out the full schedule at www.REEF.org/fishinars. And keep an eye on that space because we will be adding new ones for 2015 soon. On the schedule so far....

  • Swimming in the Deep End - Carlos and Allison Estape, January 20th
  • Pacific Northwest Lookalikes - Janna Nichols, January 28th
  • Cayman Fishes - Jonathan Lavan, February 11th
  • Cool Hawaii Finds - 15 Not-So-Common Fishes - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, February 18th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 1 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 6th
  • The Fishes of Fiji, Part 2 - Christy Pattengill-Semmens, April 9th
  • Jack Attack - Jonathan Lavan, April 14th
  • Snap On, Snap Off - Caribbean Snappers - Jonathan Lavan, May 21st
  • More to come!

Explore our Fishinar webpage, register for the sessions you like, and we'll see you online! No special software or microphone is required - just a computer with speakers and an internet connection. And did we mention they are FREE to REEF members!

Putting It To Work: Who's Using REEF Data, June 2015

REEF sightings are an important source of information for rare species such as sawfish. Photo courtesy Simon Fraser University.

Every month, scientists, government agencies, and other groups request raw data from REEF’s Fish Survey Project database. Here is a sampling of who has asked for REEF data recently and what they are using it for:

- A research group at Palm Beach State College is using REEF data on South Florida fish assemblages to evaluate beach renourishment projects.

- Researchers from NOAA's Biogeography office are including REEF data in the development of a management plan for the marine portion of the NE Ecological Corridor Reserves in NE Puerto Rico and Culebra Island.

- Researchers at Bimini Biological Field Station are using REEF sightings of two endangered sawfish species to better understand the species' current distribution and status.

A complete list of scientific publications featuring REEF programs and data can be found at www.REEF.org/db/publications.

Planning For Grouper Moon

A spawning aggregation of Nassau Grouper on Little Cayman, the focus of REEF's Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Jim Hellemn.

Scientists and volunteers from REEF, and our partners at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, are gearing up for the annual Grouper Moon Project next month. Scientists will be on the ground and in the water during the full moon in January. Since 2002, the group has conducted ground-breaking research to study the Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations, to help ensure recovery of the populations of this iconic species. This year, the team will be collaborating on new work using cutting-edge technology including underwater microscopes to evaluate larvae in-situ. We will also be hosting several live-feed videos through Google Hangouts as part of REEF’s Grouper Education Program. In 2011, with funding from Disney Conservation Fund, REEF launched the education program to engage Caymanian students in the project. This exciting initiative brings the Nassau Grouper into elementary and high school classrooms through lesson plans and the Hangouts that connect classrooms with scientists in the field. We will post Hangout details on our Facebook page and www.REEF.org/groupermoonproject in a few weeks.

The Faces of REEF: Adam Nardelli

Adam and the lionfish research team.
The cryptic frogfish that Adam found in Cozumel.

REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 60,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.

This month we highlight Adam Nardelli. Adam has been a REEF member since 2009, and he served as a REEF Intern in 2014. He has conducted 54 surveys and has participated in several of REEF's programs. Here’s what Adam had to say about REEF:

When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member?

I first learned about REEF as a PADI dive master when I became involved in doing group fish surveys and held a Great Annual Fish Count event at a local dive shop in Fort Lauderdale, FL. I eventually became a PADI instructor and started teaching my own fish identification courses for many of the local dive shops. In 2009, the spread of invasive lionfish started to reach the shores of south Florida, and as a dive professional and passionate steward of the local reefs, I quickly saw this issue as an important threat that needed to be understood and treated for management. I started a research project on the lionfish invasion while I studied a graduate program at Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center, and partnered with REEF and Lad Akins as a REEF Intern.

If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?

My involvement with REEF has influenced most of my diving career well into shaping my view as a marine conservation steward and professional educator today. As a REEF Intern, I was fortunate to assist with several field surveys, and I would have to say that among all of them the single highlight was the ability to dive and learn from the staff members. Of course, my most memorable surveys were conducting lionfish transects with Lad, Stephanie, and the other REEF volunteers. There were as many long, cold, wet days as there were warm, sunny ones where we spent hours in the water surveying many of the diverse reef habitats around the Florida Keys. There were so many dive stories that we came away with, but I would have to say the most memorable was when we were approached by a huge sailfish chasing bait.

I also had the extraordinary experience of assisting with the Grouper Moon project in Little Cayman with Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Brice Semmens. This was an opportunity to help conduct research and promote continued protection for the endangered Nassau Grouper. It was an honor to learn from the sharp set of fish identification skills that Christy and Brice possess as expert field researchers. Swimming with large schools of these charismatic fish was a memorable dive adventure.

Lastly, just this past summer in 2015, I participated in the Roatan Field Survey group, which was led by Anna and Ned DeLoach. It was wonderful to dive with these two fish “aficionados” as we explored every coral crevice and sand hole in search of rare, cryptic and elusive creatures. It’s hard not to have fun with them around, as diving with these two really makes one appreciate how remarkable life under the ocean can be.

What inspires you to complete REEF surveys?

I am inspired to continue to do REEF surveys because it adds value to every dive I make. Not only am I contributing data for scientific endeavor, but it also enables me to appreciate the reef in a very real, detailed way. During each dive, I can account for every creature that I observe and take the time to watch their behavior. Diving becomes more like a visit with a friend than just being a passerby.

What is the most fascinating fish encounter you’ve experienced?

There are so many diverse and fascinating fish in the oceans that it would be hard to choose just one to top the list. However, during my most recent dives in Cozumel this year I encountered a perfectly cryptic Longlure Frogfish. When the dive master pointed to the coral head, I thought critically, “this guy thinks I’ve never seen a sponge before.” But then upon closer visual inspection, the pectoral fins and eyes began to take shape. With greater concealment than any octopus or scorpionfish I have encountered, this creature is truly unique.

Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?

My best tip for fishwatching and being a good surveyor is to slow down and take your time to dive. Be still in the water and watch the fish school around you. Practice good buoyancy control as well. You will not only appreciate the reef more, but the fish will respond better towards your presence and allow you the close inspection you may need to get that positive key identification feature.

Exciting Opportunity to Sleep Under the Sea

We are excited to share with you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join REEF on a special expedition next spring. In partnershp with Florida International Univeristy (FIU), we have arranged for a small team of REEF members to experience another level of ocean exploration. Our team will venture beneath the waves and spend a night in the FIU Aquarius Reef Base, the world’s only undersea research laboratory. Deployed 60 feet beneath the surface in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Aquarius Reef Base is the world’s only undersea research station and is used to study the ocean, test and develop undersea technology, and train astronauts. Less than 1,500 people have ever ventured inside Reef Aquarius Base, and even fewer have spent the night in the underwater habitat.

The project dates are March 5 - 10, 2017, and includes 4 nights of lodging in Marriott Bayside Resort in Key Largo, 3 days of 2-tank dives with Quiescence Diving Services, a night spent in the Aquarius Reef Base, and classroom sessions with REEF and Aquarius staff each day. Note that the time spent in the Aquarius is not a saturation dive. The pressure inside Aquarius will be adjusted during the overnight stay, and participants will not be allowed to venture outside of the Habitat until departure from the Habitat. Cost to participate is $4,500. If you are interested in finding out more, visit the Aquarius Expedition website.

REEF Assists with Underwater Habitat Ocean Science and Education Mission

REEF_TeamAquarius_l.jpg
REEF Team Aquarius 2007: The Life Support Buoy, which provides power and communications to Aquarius, tethered 60 feet below, appears in the background. Courtesy of Lillian Kenney.
REEF_Dave_l.jpg
Volunteer Dave Grenda surveys the northeast site off Aquarius. Courtesy of NMSP.

 Six volunteer divers from the REEF Advanced Assessment Team (AAT) surveyed two sites off the Aquarius Reef Base in Key Largo, Florida, to assist the National Marine Sanctuaries Program (NMSP) with the science component of the Aquarius 2007 Mission: If Reefs Could Talk. Aquarius, the world's only undersea laboratory, is part of NOAA's National Undersea Research Program (NURP) and sits seven miles off shore at Conch Reef. A valuable resource and good neighbor to REEF HQ, Aquarius hosts scientists from around the world, from sponge chemists to astronauts, in innovative research and education.

The team included REEF Special Projects Manager Lad Akins and AAT members Dave Grenda, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Wayne Manning, and Mike Phelan. Twelve fish surveys were conducted at each of two research sites near Aquarius using the Roving Diver Technique (RDT). This year's data will be compared to surveys collected during a 2001 mission to assess change in resident fish populations. The team also assisted NMSP in documenting the occurrence of long-spined sea urchin (Diadema) at each site. Once abundant on Florida Keys coral reefs, herbivorous Diadema play an important role in keeping coral-stifling algae from overtaking the reef structure. 

Click here to read more about the 2007 mission and the Aquarius habitat, including daily broadcasts and interviews with the REEF survey team. 

REEF to Host "For the Love of the Sea" Benefit Dinner and Auction

cropped diver.jpg

On Saturday, February 9, REEF will host an ocean-themed dinner and auction at Amy Slate’s Amoray Dive Resort to raise awareness about REEF in the Florida Keys community and help conserve local coral reef ecosystems. Underwater photographers Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach will present new images of sea life taken on their worldwide dive travels. A silent and live auction will offer prizes from local businesses and travel to destinations including Bonaire and Papua New Guinea. Tickets are $75 each and include buffet dinner, open bar and dancing.

For more information, including how to purchase tickets, become an event sponsor or donate auction items, please visit www.REEF.org/loveofthesea. If you are in the area, please join REEF for this unique opportunity to celebrate the Valentines season and kick off 2008 as the International Year of the Reef.

 

REEF Survey Tips

TCAII_April08_©Aggressor_262.jpg
Joe Cavanaugh searching wall for Cave Basslets
School.jpg
Check for the Witness Protection Program Fish, here - the Yellowtail amongst Horse-Eyes
Nurseand3.jpg
Look closely at sharksuckers, 3 species seen on this one Nurse Shark
LindaExotic.jpg
Look for Exotics amongst the native species, here a Red Lionfish
turtle survey.jpg
Report your Sea Turtle sightings on survey - linked to seaturtle.org
TCAII_April08_©Aggressor_15.jpg
Surveyors conferring on a sighting ID
TCAII_April08_©Aggressor_17.jpg
Large sponge "smoking," releasing gametes

Once again, it is that time of year when many of you are getting out on the water and conducting REEF Fish Surveys.  I have put together a few bullet points based on my experiences surveying with members and answering questions on techniques and things to watch out for when filling out your data sheets. Here are a few tips:

 

  • Roving Diver Surveys mean you are not restricted to a transect line while surveying and you can roam about within 100m of dive boat, mooring buoy, or shore during your survey, drift dives count, of course, and often cover a larger area. The area surveyed does not correlate to your fish sightings, in terms of sighting frequency and abundances, but rather,  your time surveying is directly correlated to your sightings data.  This is why it is important to fill in the time box on your scanform or on the dataentry page to reflect the time you actually spend surveying, not your total dive time.  If you spend 5 minutes prepping to survey and you stop surveying on your safety stop, for instance, than your survey time will not equal your total dive time.  Also, as you get better at identifying your fish, try and spend more time looking and searching for fish, and less time looking at your survey slate.
  • Set up your slate so that it is easy to get to but not necessarily in your hand throughout your dive.  I clip mine with a retractable clip to my BCD and use surgical tubing to hold a graphite pencil, the kind artists use.  You can get these at any art supply store and you'll get hundreds of surveys from one pencil providing someone doesn't smoosh it with their dive cylynder!  I typically census every couple of minutes or when I see something unique that I don't want to forget.  I periodically update my survey so that I really don't have much to add at the end of the dive and I can go through and make revisions while the dive is fresh in my mind.  I write in code such as LU (look up) for any fish I need to consult a book about later in the day.  I also carry a magnifying glass and a small flashlight to search under ledges and inside sponges for peppermint basslets and sponge cardinalfishes, for instance.

 

  • Use your time wisely when diving deeper profiles on wall dives.  As your dive profile changes depending on the site, you can adjust your survey strategy accordingly, to maximize your survey time and the scope of what you see.  For wall dives, I personally keep navigation simple, pick an unusual coral head or sponge and mark it in your mind and take a compass heading back to the boat.  Make your descent but while you do, search for the type of habitat you are likely to find the fish you are looking for.  On a recent trip to Turks I found that at around 100' depth, the Fairy basslets transitioned into Blackcap basslets, at this imaginary line I was likely to find some Cave basslets, or three-line basslets.   Then, knowing the dimensions of the cave openings they prefer, you can be choosy about which hiding spots you want to check out.  Checking the deeper tube sponges had rewards too in not just finding Sponge cardinals, but also Black brotulas (two for the trip).

 

  • Decide how much time you want to search for different species or families ahead of time.  Mike Phelan found with statistical analysis of his personal surveys that he would find 90% of his species in the first 10 minutes of his survey effort on coral reef dives.  If you have the luxury of diving a site twice, you can more easily survey the big picture and concentrate on finding cryptic species such as triplefins and other blennies and gobies on the second dive. Or you can focus on abundances for some of those cryptics, seeing how many of one species you can find, increasing Secretary blennies from Few on your first dive to Many on your second dive at the same site.

 

  • Can I count a fish I did not see in the water? The answer is no but here are a couple of examples where I or others have surveyed fish in an atypical manner.  Recently, on our Turks Field Survey, I was climbing onto the boat after a night dive when a flyingfish leapt from the water, bouncing off my knee onto the boat deck.  I picked him up, identified him as a Mirrorwing flyingfish and threw him back in the water.  Did I add him to my survey?  Yes, since he was in the water with me during the time of my dive and he was a new survey species for me.  I also added a Tripletail to a survey I did last year as I was gearing up on the boat, I saw this Tripletail and snorkeled over to it just before starting my dive.  One other quick example came two years ago with our Biscayne Bay AAT project where the group saw a Whale Shark but not on the survey site itself.  Some people filled out a species-only survey for this sighting as it was a first for many and a fortuitous sighting as the first time Biscayne Park recorded the species.  We created a dive site based on the coordinates.  But in general, you can only survey what you are seeing at the time you are actively engaged in your survey.  Feel free to email me at joe@reef.org with questions about this or any other questions you might have about surveying techniques.

 

  • Share what you're seeing with other divers, especially your buddy.  Surveying is not a competition and its good practice to corroborate your unusual and cryptic sightings with other divers, share your findings with them in the water when you can. This really becomes important when you are with a REEF group and you are trying to get the "lay of the land," sort of speak.  Are those Dusky Damselfish I'm seeing everywhere?  And are those Secretary or Roughhead blennies I'm seeing.  How do I find a Candy basslet, people keep seeing them, can you show me?"  Ask questions of your fellow surveyors and take advantage of the unique fish identification and fish finding akumen others have; I sure do on AAT projects.  And lastly, feel free to take notes on interesting events such as coral and sponge spawning, rarely seen or odd behaviors of fish, etc.  You can post these on one of our REEF forums accessible from our homepage. Photos for this article, courtesy Aggressor II, Turks and Caicos.
Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub