REEF just completed our first bona fide New England Field Survey this past week. It was a big success and really ended up being a reconnoitering expedition to determine how REEF can better translate our Fish Survey Project to the Northeast where there are plenty of divers getting out in the water but very few who conduct surveys. There is also a seasonal effect for the northeast in that the fish all hibernate or leave when the water temperature drops to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving a 7 month fish surveying season in most areas (April-October). Shore diving is more the norm for many locations throughout New England and there are few commercial charter boats as you would find in the Caribbean, for instance. And dive clubs really are the main vehicle for divers to connect and coordinate temperate dives as well as arranging tropical dive trips for some winter relief.
Our REEF team was made up of 9 divers and we were based in historical Woods Hole on Cape Cod. We dived in Woods Hole, Dennis, and off of Cape Ann (our chilliest venue with bottom temps close to 50 degrees already. I co-lead this group with Holly Martel Bourbon, a marine fishery biologist and diving safety officer for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We were also joined by Sarah Taylor who is a New England Aquarium Aquarist II and collector. Together, Holly and I coordinated with a number of dive shops in the region and Maryhelen Shuman-Groh set up a REEF talk at the New England Aquarium Dive Club that meets every month at the aquarium and is where I got my start about 12 years ago. Incidentally, we surveyed a combined total of 19 fish species, no century dives in New England, let's just say you shoot for deca-dives (10 species) and this is why you won't find New England divers complaining on Caribbean dives, well, that and the fact that visibility beyond 10 feet is a blessing. We found a few wayward foureye and spotfin butterflyfish juveniles settled from the Gulf Stream. Next time we'll have to go to Rhode Island to help collect some of the tropicals.
New England diving is definitely unique and requires a special type of REEF capacity building to jumpstart the Fish Survey Project in the region. Bringing more dive shops into the fold such as Divers Market in Plymouth and Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester is a good first step in increasing REEF's efforts and the chance to engage the New England Aquarium Dive Club was especially important as this dive club reaches many of the naturalist divers in the region. I also attended a Boston Sea Rovers picnic (one of the oldest and most storied dive clubs in the U.S.) as Holly's guest and had the opportunity to speak with folks about REEF and our mission and hopes for increasing surveys in the region. Look for REEF to give a talk at the next Sea Rovers annual meeting in Boston http://www.bostonsearovers.com/ in March of 2008 and for us to give a REEF Citizens Science talk as part of the New England Aquarium's Lowell Lecture Series. We will also be partnering with the Aquarium as our newest Field Station http://neaq.org/. REEF and NEAQ will begin working on a number of training programs together to increase survey efforts in the northeast as well as having Aquarium divers become Advanced Assessment Team members and conduct surveys on their collection trips. There are many other opportunities for collaboration between NEAQ and REEF.
I would like to thank the REEF members who were all wonderful and patient on this trip as Holly and I had to kind of make things up as we went since this type of trip had not been done before, sort of a boat diving and shore diving mix, Bonaire meets New England without the yellow rocks. Thanks to Holly for co-leading the trip with me could not have done it without her) and to her boss, Vin Malkoski, for giving her the time to work with REEF and for the use of one of their vans for the week along with digital projector and many other shore diving supplies. Alison Johnson will be donating some underwater images from our dives for future curriculum/training along with Terrence Rioux, the dive safety officer for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). Holly and I plan on developing a more contemporary and appropriate curriculum that includes juvenile fish images and more inclusion of fish species that divers are likely to see on inshore dives. Lastly, I want to thank both Divers Market in Plymouth and Cape Ann Divers in Gloucester as well as the Marine Biological Laboratory for the use of their dive locker and their conference center at SWOPE.