Grouper Moon Project Kicks Off Expanded Research Efforts

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Thousands of Nassau grouper in spawning colorations aggregated to spawn on the west end of Little Cayman Island following the full moon in January. Photo by Phil Bush.
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A Nassau grouper from Cayman Brac that will be acoustically tagged to better understand local reproductive behaviors.
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The 2008 team of Grouper Moon researchers and REEF volunteers.

Thanks to a three-year grant from the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, REEF and collaborators at the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE) and Oregon State University (OSU) will greatly expand the conservation science research being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project in the Cayman Islands. The funded research, entitled "The reproductive biology of remnant Nassau grouper stocks: implications for Cayman Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA) management" will evaluate the potential for spawning site MPAs to recover Nassau grouper stocks.

In 2003 the Cayman Islands government protected all five known current and historic Nassau grouper spawning sites in the Cayman Islands. This move was motivated by the 2001 discovery and rapid depletion of a large spawning aggregation (~7000 fish) on the west end of Little Cayman. This rapid legislative response protected the west-end spawning site before all the fish were taken (~3,000 remain), and the site is now one of the largest fully-protected Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in existence. However, the other four spawning sites had previously been fished to exhaustion and are believed to be inactive, i.e. aggregations no longer occur during spawning season.

Over the next three years, REEF will continue the ongoing aggregation monitoring and acoustic research that has been conducted on the Little Cayman aggregation since 2002 and expand efforts to Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman, where historical spawning aggregations were fished out during the last ten years. Four primary research questions being asked as part of the Lenfest-funded project are: 1) Do aggregations form in regions that have been fished out? 2) If aggregations form, do the fish ultimately spawn? 3) Do these aggregations form at historic sites or somewhere else? And, 4) Does spawning at these remnant aggregations result in new recruitment?

The new research kicked into gear last month with a team of Grouper Moon scientists and REEF volunteers who conducted twelve days of field work in Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. The team visually monitored the Little Cayman aggregation, documenting the largest number of fish since the fishing ban was implemented in 2003. Spectacular mass spawning was documented at dusk seven days after the full moon. Grouper Moon scientists conducted extensive work on Cayman Brac to enable future visual monitoring on the historical aggregation site and initiate an acoustic tagging study that will facilitate a better understanding of the behaviors of Nassau grouper on an island with a limited number of reproductively-aged individuals. Later this Spring and Summer, REEF researchers, volunteers and an OSU graduate student will return to the Cayman Islands to conduct larval recruitment studies and begin acoustic tagging on Grand Cayman.

Capitalizing on the the increased breadth of research questions being asked as part of the Lenfest Ocean Program grant, the CIDOE is supporting a larval dispersal study that also kicked off this year under the guidance of Dr. Scott Heppell from OSU. Three satellite drifters were deployed at the Little Cayman aggregation site on the night of spawning. The paths will be recorded by ARGOS satellites for 45 days and the resulting data will be used to develop a larval dispersal model in collaboration with researchers from University of Miami. Check out the 2008 image gallery to see where the drifters are today.

Visit the Grouper Moon Project webpage to find out more about this critical conservation research program and the 2008 Gallery page to see images and video of the field work.

REEF extends a big thank you to the island business who continue to support this project, including the Little Cayman Beach Resort and the Southern Cross Club, as well as Peter Hillenbrand and Mary Ellen Cutts, Franklin and Cassandra Neal, and the 2008 REEF Volunteer Team -- Judie Clee, Brenda Hitt, Denise Mizell, and Leslie Whaylen.  We also greatly appreciate the continued support of our collaborative team, including the CIDOE and OSU, and the Lenfest Ocean Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

REEF News Tidbits for June

Please Help REEF Meet Our Summer Fundraising Goal! -- Please remember to donate online today through our secure website or call the REEF office (305-852-0030).

Pre-order Your Copy of the 2nd Edition of Coastal Fish Identification -- Greatly expanded and improved, the 2nd edition includes more than 30 new species and 70 new photographs.  It's the perfect identification resource for surveyors from California to Alaska.  Orders are being taken now through the REEF online store.  Copies will be shipped by the end of July.

Upcoming Lionfish Research Project Opportunity -- Interested in seeing REEF's lionfish research first-hand?  Join us and our partners from the National Aquarium in Washington D.C., the Bermuda government, and Ned and Anna DeLoach at Stuart Cove's in the Bahamas September 14-20.  Click here to find out more.

Fall Fundraising

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The 2008 Fall Fundraising premium image - a male yellowhead jawfish guarding a brood of eggs in his mouth. Photo by Paul Humann.

Here at REEF, we are tightening our belts and doubling our efforts to keep our long tradition of service alive during these challenging financial times. As never before, we are counting on your financial support, which for nearly two decades has been the cornerstone of our grass-roots’ partnership protecting the marine environment. Watch your mail for REEF's Fall Fundraising appeal. Or better yet, don’t wait and donate today using our secure online form.  Once again, REEF co-founder and marine life photographer, Paul Humann, has donated a special signed print as a premium gift for REEF members donating $250 or more. This year's print features a beautiful male yellowhead jawfish guarding a brood of eggs in his mouth.

Since its inception REEF’s accomplishments have been powered by volunteers and donations from many friends like you who have a strong commitment to the health and protection of the natural world. We attribute our longevity to service, ethics, innovation and the wise use of this funding. We are proud to maintain one of the lowest administrative to program cost ratios in the non-profit sector. Even so, we have been able to increase our services and support long-term projects, such as the Volunteer Survey Project, the Grouper Moon Project, and the Lionfish Invasion Research Program.

Thank you for considering a gift of any size, we truly appreciate your support and your belief in our mission.

Online Data Entry 2.0 - Now Available For All Regions

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The online Data Entry interface -- www.reef.org/dataentry.
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With the expanding availabitly of wireless internet, REEF volunteers can submit their surveys online almost anywhere. Photo by Janna Nichols.
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REEF surveys conducted throughout the REEF project regions can now be submitted online.

We are excited to announce the launch of Online Data Entry 2.0. The new version includes several upgrades and now encompasses all of REEF's project regions. At long last, our REEF surveyors in the Tropical Eastern Pacific region (Baja Mexico - Galapagos Islands) and the Northeast US & Canada (Virginia - Newfoundland) are able to submit their survey data online. In addition, based on feedback from our members, the interface to add unlisted species has been greatly improved. Additional new features include: surveyors can now remain logged in for multiple submissions, ability to delete a survey in your queue, and the number of species entered is given on the summary page to cross-check with the survey paper. The Online Data Entry interface can be found at www.reef.org/dataentry. If you have feedback or suggestions you can send them to data@reef.org.

The online data entry interface allows volunteers to log on to the REEF Website and complete data entry, either during one or multiple sessions, and includes a variety of error checking features. Submissions of Volunteer Survey Project data through the online interface is becoming the preferred method among our volunteers, due to the quick turnaround in processing (typically posted to their personal survey log report within 2 weeks versus 10 weeks) as well as the time and money savings for the volunteer. Similarly, REEF strongly encourages online submission due to the higher quality of data that are submitted (the program eliminates clerical errors and missing data, and requires surveyors to verify questionable sightings), as well as the comparably minimal staff and natural resources that are required to process the survey data. Paper scanforms will still be available and will continue to be accepted.

If you are new to entering REEF data online, check out these instructions and this past enews article on data entry tips. Most notably:

  • In order to submit a survey from a location, REEF must have an 8-digit zone code for the site in our database first. Existing zone codes are listed at http://www.reef.org/db/zonecodes. To have a zone code assigned for a new site, please contact us at data@reef.org.
  • REEF first launched online data entry for the Tropical Western Atlantic region in 2005. To date, over 15,000 REEF surveys have been submitted online. REEF is beginning work on developing an offline entry program that will enable surveyors to electronically capture data offline and later submit the survey information through the existing REEF online data entry interface. Stay tuned for updates.

    We would like to extend a very big thank you to Michael Coyne for all of his work on the new Online Data Entry interface. His assistance and support through the years is much appreciated!

    Second Annual Bahamas Lionfish Derby Brings in 941 Lionfish

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    Zane Carney, from Team Meander, captured the largest lionfish of the day - a whopping 43.4cm in length (approx. 19 in) and weighing about 4 pounds!
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    Preparing the lionfish for the cookout.
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    Derby First Place Team, White Roach.

    The second annual Abaco Lionfish Derby, held at Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas, on Saturday June 19th, was a huge success. Teams on twenty-one boats from Florida and the Bahamas enjoyed perfect weather and conditions while collecting a grand total of 941 lionfish. Over $5,000 in cash was awarded to the winning teams for the most, biggest, and smallest lionfish. This event, held in the Bahamas and sanctioned by the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources, is one of many REEF efforts to cull invasive lionfish populations and raise awareness about the issue.

    The award for most lionfish collected in the one-day event went to team White Roach from Abaco. Repeat winners, the trio of skilled lionfish collectors significantly exceeded their tally from 289 lionfish last year to a whopping 345 this year. This number is both astonishing and alarming when you consider how dense lionfish populations must be for three people to have the ability to collect over 300 lionfish in the span of a single day.

    Team Meander from Jacksonville, FL, clenched 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for largest lionfish collected. Zane Carney captured the largest lionfish ever recorded in the Abacos, which measured just 2cm short of the national record. Zane told Derby organizers that he found a hole outside the main barrier reef off of No Name Cay in 45 feet of water that was full of very large lionfish. He used a pole spear to bag the winning fish, which was 43.4 cm in length (roughly 19 inches long) and weighed approximately 4 pounds.

    Lad Akins, REEF’s Director of Operations, and Stephanie Green, a collaborative research partner from Simon Fraser University, recorded valuable data during the event, including lionfish sizes, stomach contents, and sex for many of the lionfish before they were filleted and cooked by the Green Turtle Club. Observers and participants, many of whom had never tried lionfish, found the fish quite tasty, resembling hogfish or grouper. This year, Tropic Seafood Limited of Nassau also arranged to purchase some of the larger fillets of lionfish for distribution in local markets. According to Derby organizer, Bobbie Lindsay, “Tropic’s offer to purchase lionfish is an exciting development, because creating a market for lionfish is the best way to control the population of this invasive fish.”

    Thanks to the Derby co-sponsors, Green Turtle Club, and Brendal’s Dive Center, who offered special discounts for Derby participants. REEF also extends sincere gratitude to all of the participants, and especially Bobbie Lindsay, an active REEF member and volunteer who took the lead in organizing the Derby making it a successful event again this year. Next year’s Derby is set for June 24-25, 2011. For full results and pictures go to www.lionfishderby.com.

    Summary of Team Results -

  • Most Lionfish: 1st Place: White Roach 2nd Place: Goofin’ Off 3rd Place: Cajun Bahamas
  • Largest Lionfish: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place: Meander
  • Smallest Lionfish: 1st and 2nd Place: Goofin’ Off 3rd Place: All Play
  • Outstanding in their Field: Featured REEF Field Station, Horizon Divers

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    REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations.

    This month we feature Horizon Divers in Key Largo, FL. Just down the street from REEF Headquarters, they have been a long-time supporter of REEF’s efforts. One of their hallmark efforts is supporting the REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program by allowing REEF Interns to come out on the boat for free and conduct fish surveys. Horizon dive instructor, Mike Ryan, says, “It’s a lot of fun having them out on the boat regularly and getting to know them. When other divers see their slates and see them tallying fish underwater, they become curious and often ask the interns what they are doing and why count fish. The interns are great because they have the ability to inspire divers to learn fish names and start surveying which, in turn, brings us more business!” Mike also gets into REEF surveying himself. When asked about his best lifetime sightings, he quickly said they were a Manta Ray at one of their popular dive sites and a resident Longlure Frogfish that was regularly surveyed on the Speigel Grove for nearly a two-year timespan.

    Horizon Divers regularly teaches fish identification specialty courses and always encourages their students to become REEF surveyors. The shop is also very active in REEF’s Lionfish Control Program in the Keys. Most of their staff have been through REEF’s Lionfish Collection and Handling Workshop and they hold current permits to collect lionfish in the no-take Sanctuary Preservation Areas (SPAs). The dive shop also serves as a Lionfish Collection Bank, collecting, labeling, and storing collected lionfish until they pass them to REEF for research purposes. Mike recently developed a “Lionfish Safari” PADI specialty course. Mike says, “Although lionfish are an ecological nightmare, we are trying to make the best of it by engaging divers in lionfish control efforts and drumming up business at the same time.”

    REEF and Florida Keys Sanctuary to Host Second Annual Lionfish Derby Series

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    Divers will return to Florida Keys waters next month on a mission: net thousands of dollars in cash and prizes while protecting the environment from invasive lionfish. REEF and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are hosting the second annual lionfish derby series starting May 14, in Long Key, Fla. In 2010, the inaugural series of lionfish derbies removed 664 of the Pacific invaders from sanctuary waters. “Anyone who appreciates the diversity of the Keys coral reef should be concerned about these invasive fish,” said Sean Morton, Sanctuary Superintendent. “Divers have been actively engaged in lionfish removal in the Keys since 2009 and these tournaments are a way to reward them for their dedication to the reef.” Researchers will collect samples from lionfish caught at the derbies to learn more about lionfish genetics, growth, and impacts to native marine life. Each tournament also includes a detailed awareness and training briefing and lionfish tasting. In addition to the derby on May 14, two other events will be held later this year -- August 20 at Coconuts Restaurant in Key Largo and November 5 at Hurricane Hole Marina in Key West. To find out more about the Derby Series, visit the Derby Webpage.

    Lionfish Derbies in the Florida Keys Removes Over 1,000 of the Invasive Fish

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    Jen Russell shows off her catch, which netted the largest lionfish award in the Key West derby this year.

    Divers and snorkelers removed 1,518 invasive lionfish from Florida Keys waters during three Lionfish Derby events in 2011. Organized by REEF in partnership with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Florida Keys Lionfish Derby series began in 2010 to engage local communities in addressing the invasive lionfish issue. Goals of the lionfish derby series include raising awareness, educating collectors in safe collecting and handling procedures, providing samples for research, conducting lionfish cooking demonstrations and tastings for the general public, and encouraging ongoing removal efforts throughout the region. Teams of registered divers competed for cash and prizes in the categories of most, largest, and smallest lionfish. Dive teams traveled from as far as Chicago, IL.; Austin, TX; and Sunapee, NH to compete in the derbies. Participants and attendees observed filleting demonstrations and enjoyed tastings of lionfish caught during the event. Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, Salisbury University, University of Florida, Loyola University, international researchers from the UK, the State of Florida, and NOAA all utilized samples and data from the derbies to aid in their lionfish research. Growing populations of lionfish off the southeast U.S., Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico are impacting native marine life commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important species. Derbies are just one of several strategies being employed to help control the lionfish invasion. Thanks to derby sponsors, including Ocean Reef Conservation Association, City of Layton, Divers Direct, Dive Key West, Spree Expeditions, Markey Marine Services, and The Weekly Newspapers. Visit www.REEF.org/lionfish/derbies for derby results and updates on future derbies. Visit the REEF Lionfish webpage to find out more about REEF's Lionfish program.

    2013 REEF Field Survey Trip Schedule Announced

    We are excited to announce our 2013 Field Survey Schedule. There is an exciting lineup of destinations planned and we hope you will join us. These trips offer a great introduction to fish identification for novice fishwatchers, and are a fun way for experienced surveyors to build their life list while interacting with fellow fishwatchers. REEF staff, board members, and other REEF experts lead these trips, and each features daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. Destinations include: Fiji, Bahamas, Little Cayman, Utila, British Columbia, Grenada, Soccoro Islands, and Cozumel. Dates and locations of the 2013 trips and information on remaining 2012 trips are below. Complete package details and prices can be found online at www.REEF.org/trips. To find out more about any of these trips or to book your space, contact our travel consultants at Caradonna at 1-877-295-7333 (REEF), or via e-mail REEF@caradonna.com. Make a Dive Trip That Counts!

    Dates and destinations for 2013 --

    May 11 - 21, 2013 Fiji, aboard the Nai'a, Led by Paul Humann

    May 18-25, 2013 Southern Bahamas, Lionfish Research Cruise aboard Explorer II, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects, and Peter Hughes

    July 13-20, 2013 Little Cayman, Southern Cross Club, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Marine Life Author

    July 21-28, 2013 Utila, Deep Blue Utila, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers

    September 25 - 28, 2013 Barkley Sound, British Columbia with Rendezvous Dive Adventures. Led by Janna Nichols, REEF Outreach Coordinator

    October 5-12, 2013 Grenada, with True Blue Bay Resort and Aquanauts Diving. Led by Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, REEF Director of Science

    December 3-12, 2013 Socorro Islands, aboard Rocio del Mar, led by Andy Dehart and Marty Snyderman, Shark Experts, Photographers, and REEF Board Members

    December 7-14, 2013 Cozumel, Aqua Safari, led by Tracey Griffin and Sheryl Shea, REEF Fish Experts and Cozumel Naturalists

    2012 Trips with space available --

    July 14-21, 2012 - Lionfish Research in Dominica - Dive Dominica and Anchorage Hotel, led by Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects

    July 28 - August 4, 2012 - San Salvador, Bahamas - Riding Rock Inn and Marina, led by Paul Humann, REEF Co-Founder and Renowned Underwater Photographer and Marine Life Author

    September 22-29, 2012 - Sea of Cortez, Baja Mexico - Rocio del Mar liveaboard, led by Drs. Christy and Brice Semmens, REEF Director of Science, REEF Researcher

    October 6-13, 2012 - Bermuda - Triangle Diving and Grotto Bay Hotel, led by Ned and Anna DeLoach, REEF Board Members and World-Famous Marine Life Authors and Photographer/Videographers

    November 10-17, 2012 - British Virgin Islands - Cuan Law liveaboard, led by Heather George, REEF Expert

    Putting It To Work: REEF Data Used in New Publication on Snappers and Climate Change

    Climate change is expected to cause a poleward shift of many temperate species, however, a better understanding of how temperature and species' life histories interact to produce observed adult range is often lacking. REEF data were featured in a new publication on this topic in the scientific publication, Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. The publication's authors evaluated the hypothesis that juvenile thermal tolerance determines northern range in gray snapper (Lutjanus griseus), a species commonly caught as juveniles along the US Atlantic coast well north of their adult distribution, using a combined laboratory, field, and modeling approach. To evaluate the relationship between juvenile thermal tolerance criteria and adult distributions, the authors used the REEF database to quantify adult distribution. There was a strong correspondence between observations of adult gray snapper from the REEF database vs. latitude of the predicted survival of juveniles vs. latitude from their modeling analysis. The agreement between the laboratory-derived thermal tolerance measures, the spatial distribution of winter temperature, and the distribution of adult gray snapper support the hypothesis that the adult range of gray snapper is largely limited by the overwinter survival of juveniles. The authors stated that "understanding the interaction between physiology and range is important for forecasting the impacts of climate change on other species of fish where juvenile tolerances are critical in determining range, particularly in seasonal systems". The abstract of the paper and supporting figures can be viewed online here. Visit the REEF Publications page to see all of the scientific publications that have featured REEF data.

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub