During the last week of April, divers from around the country gathered at Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo, Florida for a REEF Fish Behavior Tour hosted by Ned and Anna DeLoach. After making two morning dives each day, the group spent their late afternoons and early evenings attending entertaining talks about the myriad fish they encountered on the reef. Lad Akins, REEF’s Special Projects Director, dropped by to explain the science behind the recent invasion of Indo-Pacific lionfish in the western Atlantic. But the highlight of the week was the rare opportunity for everyone to create their own coral garden.
Yes, you read it right: After being giving instructions by coral scientist Ken Nedimyer of the Coral Restoration Foundation, participants headed out the following morning to Ken’s coral nursery located in Hawke Channel where they transplanted cuttings of staghorn coral from a mother colony onto a set of nursery blocks.
After watching 90 percent of the Keys’ staghorn coral die off from a variety of reasons over the past decades, Ken, an aquaculturist by trade, decided to do something about the disheartening problem. In the late 1990’s, he began nurturing small buds of rapidly growing staghorn that by chance settled on his underwater “live rock” farm. Following several years of trial and error, Ken pioneered the first successful method for cultivating and transplanting large quantities of coral. His current success rate hovers at an incredible 90 percent.
After the REEF divers carefully epoxyed their branches on numerically coded pedestals and recorded measurement data, the group headed off to a site on Molasses Reef where, in 1984 the M/V Wellwood, an ocean-going freighter, ran aground destroying 644 square meters of coral reef framework. Federal agencies began extensive restoration of the site in 2002 including emplacement of numerous high-profile limestone modules (click here to read about REEF's post-restoration monitoring of the fish populations on these modules). Unfortunately, to date, the new structures have had limited success recruiting new coral growth. However, the area has one extraordinary success story and the focus of our second dive: Ken’s rapidly growing staghorn coral garden – the two-year result of transplanting nursery grown corals to the grounding site.
Dates for next year’s 2nd Annual Key Largo REEF Fish Behavior Tour at Amoray are scheduled for May 29 to June 5, 2009. The popular fish behavior talks cover Reproductive Strategies, What Fish Eat, Cleaning Stations, Discovering the Night Reef, and Fish Life Cycles. Participants will once again establish their own coral colonies and transplant this year’s nursery crop onto the reef.
REEF TWA Advanced Assessment Team member, Rob McCall, has over 625 surveys under his belt and 281 fish species on his lifelist. But earlier this summer, during a dive in the Florida Keys, he found something that surprised him - the extremely rare Pugjaw Wormfish (Cerdale floridana). Here is his story -- Last June, while diving at Rock Key off Key West, I noticed a very slender (about the diameter of thin drinking straw) white fish about 6 cm long. I could see the fish had a rounded head but could not see dorsal or tail fins. The fish swam with a sinuous movement, much like an eel or worm, and dove into a burrow when it saw me. It did not immediately reappear and I soon swam off in search of other fish. That night I attempted to identify the mystery fish in my reference books, but was unable to get even a rough idea of what it might be.
Subsequent to the first sighting, I saw a similar fish on two other occasions at Rock Key. All sightings were within an area about 8 x 4 meters, with sand bottom bordered by high profile reef. On the second sighting, the fish dove into a burrow and did not reappear. On the third sighting, the fish immediately dove into a Yellowhead Jawfish burrow (the normal occupant was a male Yellowhead Jawfish who happened to be mouth-brooding eggs at the time; the jawfish was hovering above the burrow and did not seem particularly upset that the mystery fish “borrowed” his home.) The mystery fish did not reappear during the ten minutes or so I spent photographing the jawfish.
I stopped by REEF Headquarters in early August and asked Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, if he had any ideas to help me identify the fish. Based on my hazy description, Lad thought it might be a type of worm-eel. But when I researched online, it did not seem to be a good fit.
On August 22, while diving at Nine Foot Stake off Key West (and armed with my camera set up for macro) I came across one of the mystery fish – truly a case of me being in the right place at the right time. The fish was out in the open but dove into a nearby burrow – I don’t know if it was his or a “borrowed” one – when he saw me. I decided to wait a couple of minutes to see if it would reappear, and within a minute or two, it stuck its head back out. Over the next ten minutes it made several darting forays from the burrow, getting a little more used to me, or perhaps a little more desperate to get home. This fish seemed longer than the one(s) at Rock Key – perhaps 8 cm or so.
The four sightings shared some common features. All were at 20-24 ft. depth with sand bottom. Three of the four burrows were within 5-10 cm of small coral heads or rubble clumps. Dorsal and tail fins are visible in the photos; the fish is not actually as slender as it appears to the naked eye.
I was pretty well stumped over identifying what the fish was, even with photos, until one night I was re-reading Ned DeLoach and Paul Humman’s Reef Fish Behavior and under the article on Yellowhead Jawfish, I noticed a reference to Pugjaw Wormfish sharing a burrow with the jawfish. The next morning I researched it online and found a photo which appeared to be a very good match for my mystery fish.
We don’t know how rare the Pugjaw Wormfish might be, but according to the REEF database, they have been reported only five other times: one in Florida, one in Cuba and three in Bonaire. Convinced there are more Pugjaw’s waiting to make an appearance here in Key West, I’ve got the other instructors on our dive boat keeping their eyes open in the hopes that one of us will once again be in the right place at the right time.
Rob McCall is a scuba instructor in Key West and has been a REEF member and surveyor since 2000.
REEF is taking our message on the road this spring and summer to a few of the regional dive shows. Last month, several volunteers and REEF Director of Science, Christy Pattengill-Semmens, greeted visitors at the Northwest Dive and Travel Show in Tacoma, WA. The REEF booth provides an opportunity to spread the word about the fun of conducting marine life surveys and the valuable role that citizen science data can have in marine conservation and management. Our next stop is SCUBA Show 2009 in Long Beach, May 30 and 31. Come by and visit us at the booth!
REEF is working in close partnership with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) to diligently track lionfish reports and initiate removal efforts in South Florida. The first confirmed lionfish in the Florida Keys was reported and captured within 24 hours in January 2009 (see previous enews article). Subsequent early reports in March-June were met with successful rapid response. However, beginning in July, reports began to increase beyond the capacity and range of available trained responders. To help combat the growing problem, REEF introduced over 100 on-the-water professionals to the latest lionfish information and collecting and handling techniques during workshops held in Key Largo, Marathon and Key West earlier this Fall. The workshops were funded by the NOAA Aquatic Invasive Species Program.
Because most Florida Keys reefs are managed under the guidance of the FKNMS and some of the most visited sites are no-take Sanctuary Protected Areas, special protocols and permits were developed to allow removal of lionfish in safe, effective and environmentally considerate manners. The goal of the program is to continue to track sightings and remove lionfish as soon as they are sighted to minimize impacts on key reef areas. Successful control of invasive lionfish requires adaptive management to include involving the general public and REEF is proud to be a part of this effort. With a large corps of dive professionals trained and additional workshops planned for early next year, the Keys are working to stay ahead of the invasion through early detection and rapid response. To report a lionfish sighting, visit REEF's Exotic Species Sighting Form -- http://www.reef.org/programs/exotic/report For more information on the program or to join in future workshops, contact Lad Akins at Lad@reef.org or call REEF HQ at (305) 852-0030.
REEF Field Surveys - Take a dive vacation that counts! There's still some space left on a few of the Field Surveys in 2010. Destinations include Cozumel with Sheryl Shea, Key Largo with Ned and Anna DeLoach, Bonaire with Jessie Armacost, and Grand Cayman with Lad Akins. These trips all offer unique treasures and are sure to please every level of diver as well as beauty above water for your non-diving companions. Join us on one of these exciting weeks full of fish ID, friendship, new discoveries and great memories! Our full field survey schedule, trip details, and sign up information can be found here.
New Field Stations - Welcome to our newest Field Stations who have joined us in the last month. Field Stations are shops, charters, instructors and organizations that support REEF in many ways - offering classes, REEF survey opportunities, stocking survey supplies, etc. For more information and to check out the other 170+ REEF Field Stations, go to the Field Station page on the REEF website.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.
This month we feature Naknek Charters and Diving, based in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island in Washington State. They became a REEF Field Station in October of 2008. Owners Kurt and Peggy Long first got involved with REEF about 10 years ago when they were on a liveaboard dive charter in the British Virgin Islands, and took an onboard REEF Fish ID class. Since then, Kurt has gone on to submit many surveys and has advanced up to REEF Level 5, and is now on the Pacific NW Advanced Assessment Team. One of the reasons that they became a Field Station was because they were very interested in educating divers and the public in general about the wonderful critters that live under the water. Peggy writes, “We live in a beautiful area with an abundance of wildlife. We want the public to realize that the beauty extends to the underwater world. This is America’s best year-round cold water diving destination - we have walls, current, fish life. In other words we have it all!”
So what Field Station activities have they chosen to put into action? “Our goal is to hold a REEF weekend at least twice a year. This involves a Saturday morning class with a two-tank boat dive in the afternoon. We also offer an optional two-tank dive on Sunday. This is a great way for divers to learn about fish ID and helps them put that knowledge into practice. We sell REEF slates in our shop and our boat is identified with REEF decals.” Peggy and Kurt have a 45' charter boat that can hold 14 divers and they run charters year round.
REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 43,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight Jonathan Lavan (REEF member since 2004). Jonathan has conducted 195 REEF surveys in four REEF regions, and he is a member of the Advanced Assessment Team in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Here's what Jonathan had to say about REEF:
When and how did you first volunteer with REEF or become a REEF member? How did you first hear about REEF?
I got certified at age twenty in the cold waters of Maine. I dove there and in Florida for a number of years but then, like so many of us, life got in the way for several years. When I got back into diving I quickly realized that I really knew very little about what I was looking at. I started buying some ID books and eventually stumbled upon the Caribbean Fish ID Guide by Humann and DeLoach. Sometime after that I found the REEF website and saw that REEF had trips. My wife and I signed up for the Bahamas trip in ’04 with Paul Humann and after that I was hooked. I usually go on a couple REEF trips a year and any other trip I go on I always do REEF surveys whenever possible.
If you have been on a REEF Field Survey, where and what was your trip highlight?
Last April I went to Dominica with trip leader Heather George. On one dive I got a little separated from the group (as usual) as I was taking photos. I found a small cave and managed to hunker down to get a good look inside despite all my gear. Tucked way back in the cave I saw something quite small undulating like a piece of ribbon in the wind. It was a Black Brotula! Well I started shaking my rattle like crazy to try and get someone’s attention. Finally, Heather and another diver came over and after much gesturing and changing of places they both, finally saw it. I must say there was nothing more satisfying then when Heather looked around that last corner way back in the cave, saw the elusive fish and then I heard her say clearly through her regulator: “OOOooohh!”
What is your favorite fish or marine invertebrate?
I have many favorites but I have to say that I never get tired of watching or taking pictures of Secretary Blennies. They are so easy to personify with all their goofy expressions and fussy behavior.
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
As a photographer and surveyor, the key (as many know) is to go as slowly as possible. Let the divemaster race on ahead or make it very clear to them that you are going to be going “SLOOOW”. Not looking under that last ledge could be the difference between a great dive and really great dive.
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!
This summer REEF, in partnership with Divers Direct and SeaGrant Florida, hosted its third annual Lionfish Derby Series. The series included four derbies in Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Key Largo) and one in Green Turtle Key, Bahamas. The event series was a huge success—in total, 219 participants in 60 teams brought in a total of 2,694 lionfish! Lionfish are invasive predators capable of consuming prey in excess of half their body size and have become a hazard to Caribbean reefs by consuming commercially, recreationally and ecologically important fish and crustaceans. Using published estimates of lionfish consumption, the removal of the 1,923 lionfish collected in the Florida derbies corresponds to preventing between approximately 3.5 million to 14.8 million prey fish from being eaten by these lionfish over the next year.
Lionfish derbies serve as a way to engage the public and media, enhance awareness, encourage removals and provide samples for researchers. During each the derby over $3,500 in cash prizes sponsored by Divers Direct were awarded to first, second, and third place winners in three categories: Most, Largest, and Smallest.
Since their introduction in the 1980’s, invasive lionfish have become the first marine predator to successfully establish in the Tropical Western Atlantic. Unfortunately, complete eradication of lionfish is unlikely, but where removal efforts are sustained, population numbers and impacts can be reduced. REEF and Simon Fraser University partnered throughout the 2012 Derby Series to conduct research on the effectiveness of derbies in controlling local populations. Preliminary data analysis from the 2012 Green Turtle Key, Bahamas, Derby shows that lionfish derbies are effective at removing 65% of lionfish off of local reefs. The Derby Series is one of the many ways REEF is promoting lionfish control. A big thank you goes out to the derby sponsors, hosts, teams and everyone who came out to support the events. To find out more about the REEF Invasive Lionfish Program, including the derby series, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish. You can also follow all of our lionfish news through our Lionfish Facebook page.
More than sixty people gathered earlier this month at the Fish House Encore in Key Largo, Florida, for Lionfish Food and Wine Night. Before dining, event attendees learned about the lionfish invasion and the importance of removing lionfish from marine environments. Peter Tselikis, chef at Fish House Encore, showed the audience how to cook two popular lionfish dishes. Lad Akins, a renowned lionfish expert and REEF Director of Special Projects, taught the audience how to fillet lionfish, avoiding the venomous spines.
The invasive species, known for their voracious appetites and rapid reproduction, was prepared four different ways with a creative medley of ingredients and wine selections. Entrées included bacon-wrapped barbeque lionfish, sea salt-cured lionfish ceviche, and poached lionfish. Many guests said their favorite dish was Lionfish Bermuda, a lionfish fillet encrusted with fried red onions and Japanese breadcrumbs, baked and served with a sweet and sour sauce atop baby arugula salad.
“It’s exciting to see such strong public and commercial interest in consuming lionfish,” says Akins. “Developing a market for lionfish is a great way to provide incentive for increased removals. Even non-divers can make a real impact, by ordering the fish at their local restaurants, helping to decrease lionfish populations and minimize their impacts.”
Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, have now invaded the Western Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. In the invaded range, they have been documented to be gluttonous predators of native fish and invertebrates. One published study co-authored by Akins (Green et al. 2012) shows lionfish reduced the native fish prey community at some sites in the Bahamas by an average of 65% in just two years. Some sites had a 95% decline. Despite the dismal outlook, there is good news. Published studies show local control by divers and fishers can be effective, Akins notes. “Removing lionfish from local reefs is like weeding a garden. Remove weeds and the garden is healthier. Remove lionfish and the reefs are healthier. The key is regular removals, year round.”
For more information on REEF's Invasive Lionfish Program, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish. Creative lionfish recipes, as well as information on catching, cleaning, and cooking lionfish, can be found in the Lionfish Cookbook available on the REEF Store.