REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations. Our featured Field Station this month, Paradise Watersports, is based at Peter Island Resort and Spa in the British Virgin Islands. Their team is led by Randy Keil, an active REEF surveyor and member of the Advanced Assessment Team. Randy was first introduced to REEF over 10 years ago by Lad Akins. Since then, he has built a great program at Paradise Watersports. All of their instructors dive with slates and pencils, and fish and creature identification is done on every dive. Randy notes that “it has been our experience that our divers and snorkelers enjoy the experience of looking at marine life and immediately having it identified. It also gives them a basis on which we can talk about the dive when we’re back on the boat. Instead of ‘what was that big fish with all the colors?’ we get ‘now you called that fish a grasby, I thought it was a grouper?’ It serves as a springboard for discussion and an understanding of the relationships of the reef community.”
Paradise Watersports is also involved in helping track the invasive lionfish. Randy sees this as just one advantage of having the REEF survey program in place locally. With over 1500 surveys in the BVI and over 100,000 in the Caribbean region, the REEF database is a valuable tool in tracking the lionfish invasion and better understanding the impact the lionfish is having on the various areas. In the BVI, the dive operators, including Paradise Watersports, are making a determined effort to keep lionfish off of the moored reefs. Conservation and Fisheries has issued exemptions to the strict no spearfishing laws that allow each dive operation and several of the crewed charterboats to take lionfish. Thanks to Randy and his crew at Paradise Watersports for all you do to support REEF's programs!
'Changing Seas', an Emmy award-winning original production of Miami’s public television station WPBT2, premiered their newest episode, "Grouper Moon", earlier this month. The episode is now available to view online here. The episode focuses on the collaborative efforts of REEF and the Cayman Department of the Environment to study and conserve one of the last great populations of the Nassau Grouper. A WPBT team joined REEF in the field during the Grouper Moon Project last winter, chronicling our efforts to help save this imperiled reef fish.
REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Oregon State University have used a variety of research techniques from diver surveys to state-of-the-art technology to study this amazing natural phenomenon. The research has yielded ground-breaking results that have led to improved conservation for the species in the Cayman Islands. 2013 was a very exiting year - we continued to document increases in the number of fish at the site and there were many "teenagers" (6-8 year olds, coming to spawn for the first time). The number of spawning bursts and the number of nights spawning occured has increased. Watch this short video to see the action. We continued our education efforts. With support from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, we were able to expand the program to more classrooms at Cayman Prep and High School on Grand Cayman and initiated the program at Spot Bay Primary School on Cayman Brac. The Grouper Education Project introduces children to the ecological, economic, and cultural role that Nassau Grouper have in the Cayman Islands and wider Caribbean. An integrated marine science curriculum has been developed with a focus on two age groups (Grade 4 and Grade 11), that includes a series of classroom lessons and live from the field web sessions, including a live-feed from 80 feet on the aggregation. Seattle-based educator, Todd Bohannon, leads up this effort.
To learn more about the Grouper Moon Project, watch the Changing Seas episode online here.
To see many more photos, videos, and stories from this year's work, check out the REEF Facebook page here.
Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. In 2013, we especially appreciate the continued generous logistical support provided by Peter Hillenbrand, local lodging and dive operators Reef Divers & Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club, and Brac Reef Resort. Funding from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund supported field efforts and the Grouper Education Program. LIME Cayman Islands has provided support for the live-video feeds for the Grouper Education Project since 2012. Pegasus Thrusters supported the project in 2013 through the donation of Diver Propulsion Vehicles. It's impossible to list everyone here - please visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - http://www.REEF.org//groupermoonproject. If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.
New Fishinars are always being added. Check out the Webinar Training page (www.REEF.org/fishinars) for the most up-to-date listing. These popular online training sessions provide fishie fun in the comfort of your own home. Fishinars are free, and open to all REEF members. You need to register for each session you want to attend. No special software is required, just a web browser. Upcoming sessions include:
Perplexing Parrotfish of the Caribbean - September 10
Keep Pointing! The Top 12 Caribbean Fish You Might Mistake For a Rock - September 26
Lesser Known Fish of Cozumel - October 17
Feel the Beat! The Top 12 Drums & Croakers of the Caribbean - October 29
You do WHAT for a living? Illustrating Fishes - with special guest Val Kells, Scientific Illustrator - November 13
Check out the Fishinar page for more details and to register for each session.
To all our members who donated to the Winter Fundraising Campaign, thank you! REEF depends heavily on individual donors to support our critical marine conservation programs. Together we raised over $97,000 to ensure REEF can continue:
• Expanding and building upon our Volunteer Fish Survey Project, including the recent addition of invertebrate and algae monitoring in our Northeast region. With this new program, all temperate REEF regions now have an invertebrate/algae component. For more information, click here.
• Protecting and monitoring Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands as well as educating the public about the importance of this iconic species. Our team just came back from another successful trip documenting their annual spawning aggregation. For more information, click here.
• Organizing research, training, and removal tactics to battle the lionfish invasion on the East Coast and in the Caribbean. REEF’s recent research shows that strategic local efforts can control lionfish populations and help native fish communities recover. For more information, click here.
In addition to supporting these programs, donations raised by the Winter Fundraising campaign help REEF with the minimal costs required to manage operations. We ensure that every dollar spent is maximized so our projects make a difference for marine conservation around the world.
REEF’s recent Field Survey Trip to Belize was wonderful in many ways, but two events were of particular scientific interest. First, everybody’s favorite, the Sharpnose Pufferfish were spawning so there were literally hundreds seen on every single dive. More importantly, trip leader Jonathan Lavan got a photo of the rarely seen Glover’s Reef Toadfish (Vladichthys gloverensis) down in a sponge. It was thought to only live on Glover’s Reef, Belize, but this animal was photographed on an adjacent reef in Turneffe Atoll so perhaps a common name change is in order. Additionally, Jonathan's photograph is thought to be the only existing shot of the fish in its natural habitat. Great find, Jonathan!
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.
REEF recently completed our AAT monitoring of Biscayne National Park (BNP). Over the last two years, we have monitored fish assemblages inside the marine park at 6 separate locations twice each year (March and September) to correlate our results with historical data that BNP has collected. REEF’s future collaboration with BNP is yet to be determined but will likely involve assisting them with the potential establishment of a protected area somewhere within the Park’s boundaries. REEF is excited to have this opportunity to continue working with BNP this upcoming spring so please stay tuned for more information once our future project is defined.
Meanwhile, I would like to personally thank the monitoring team from our last event for their “above and beyond the call” efforts to get the job done. We had weather issues that delayed the project by a full week, followed by a tragic death in the Key Largo diving community in losing Mike Smith. All of us at REEF especially acknowledge Lad Akins for his efforts as our boat captain, Rob Bleser (owner of Quiescence Dive Shop where Mike worked) for pushing this project through under very difficult circumstances, and Steve Campbell for acting as boat captain on our last day. And thank you to the diving team for juggling your schedules to make sure we had enough divers each day: Jesse Armacost, Dave Grenda, Brian Hufford, Lillian Kenney, Mike Phelan, and Joyce Schulke. Everyone pulled together through the above challenges and I was proud to dive with each of you.
The REEF 2008 Field Survey Schedule is in full swing. Many of the trips are already sold out, but we wanted to bring your attention to one that still has some space on it -- the Field Survey to Baja Mexico aboard the Don Jose in the Sea of Cortez this October. This is a great trip, with spectacular diving and lots of tropical fishes, warm and clear water, and beautiful topside scenery. Some of the highlights include giant hawkfish, jawfish the size of your leg, whale sharks and manta rays, and spectacular sunsets over unpopulated desert islands. This will be the 5th time that REEF has done this amazing trip, and there is a good reason we keep going back. Come see what it's all about. The trip begins and ends in La Paz Mexico aboard the Don Jose live-aboard. Dr. Brice Semmens, reef fish ecologist and expert in Baja fishes, will be leading this trip.
This Field Survey is only held every few years so don't miss your chance! To find out more, check out the trip flyer. To secure your space, contact Jeanne at Baja Expeditions, 800-843-6967, firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 5 - 12, 2008 -- $1,550 - $1,750 per person, depending on room type. Package Includes: Six nights shipboard accommodations and one night local hotel accommodations in La Paz. Meals are included, beginning with breakfast on Day 2 and end with lunch on Day 7, and includes beer, soda and wine while shipboard.
In January, 2008 the National Aquarium Institute organized and conducted a Bahamian conservation expedition on the Aqua Cat live-aboard dive vessel. Our mission was to conduct REEF surveys and work on the invasive lionfish project. On board this trip were Lad Akins (REEF Special Projects Director), Ned and Anna DeLoach, Chris Flook (Bermuda Aquarium), National Aquarium staff, and aquarium and REEF volunteers. In addition to meeting the lionfish research goals of the cruise, we were treated to not one but two exciting and rare finds - the Exuma goby and the lemon goby.
At a dive site in Eleuthera called Cave Rock Reef we geared up and readied ourselves for lionfish behavior monitoring. Just as I started getting my gear together Anna came to the surface to tell me she had found a school of Exuma gobies, Gobiosoma atronasum. What I had not realized was that the keen eye of Bruce Purdy, owner of the Aqua Cat and avid REEF surveyor and supporter had noticed them at this site before and he had directed Anna to the exact coral head. I have logged over 400 dives in the Bahamas and until this day the Exuma goby had always eluded me. To the casual observer this fish looks like a cleaning goby or sharknose goby until you notice its behavior. Unlike most other “neon-type” gobies, the Exuma Goby spends most of its time hovering in the water column, not perched on the coral. They act very similar to the masked and glass gobies. Excited to add a new species to my life list I leave the small cluster of these great fish and head down to my assigned duty of monitoring a lionfish.
Two days later, while on a dive at Blacktip Wall in the Exumas, I noticed a few fish mixed in with school bass. These fish looked out of place and very different from anything I had ever seen. I noted as much detail as possible on my REEF slate and swam on hoping that one of my fellow trip members would be able to help me identify it. As it turns out no one had any idea what it was, but luckily Ned had also seen this odd fish and had taken some great photos of it. After some research when we returned from the trip, we discovered this fish was a lemon goby, Vomerogobius flavus. The lemon goby is an exciting new fish to the REEF database. This species was identified and described in 1971 from 11 Bahamian specimens, but this sighting in the Exumas is a range extension for the species.
It was truly a rewarding experience to finally see and survey the Exuma goby that I have searched for on many trips. To document a fish that I did not even know existed was the icing on the cake. For a fish lover like me, getting to find a new species for the REEF database is an honor. REEF surveying truly keeps diving exciting and new. I am concerned about the effects that the invasive lionfish could have on these two species of gobies with such a narrow range in which they live, but the data from all of our great volunteers helps us track these changes. It would be a shame to lose such unique endemic species due to this foreign invader. We hope you enjoy seeing some of the first photos ever published of these two goby gems.