REEF members are at the heart of our grassroots marine conservation programs. Over 50,000 divers, snorkelers, students, and armchair naturalists stand behind our mission.
This month we highlight Eileen Byrne, a REEF surveyor from Massachusetts. Eileen joined REEF in 2004 and has conducted 59 surveys in both her home state and in the warmer waters of the Caribbean. Here's what she had to say about REEF:
What inspires you to complete REEF surveys? What is the most interesting thing you've learned doing a REEF fish survey?
I try to find ways to give back in as many aspects of my life as possible. When I learned about REEF, the Great Annual Fish Count, and for what the data is used, I knew I had to participate. I do surveys on as many dives as I can throughout our season and volunteer assist at our local Great Annual Fish Count event.
When I give my dive briefings, I tell everyone that I dive really slowly. For emphasis, I add that moon snails have passed me! They chuckle, but once underwater, they see that I was not exaggerating. Back when I first started surveying, I was slowed by having to stop and think about or look at my cheat sheet to see exactly what fish I had just seen. During the pause, I always saw something else, and I learned that the best way to see things is to move, well, at a snail's pace. If I actually stopped and stared at the same spot for five minutes, I would see tons of stuff.
Do you dive close to where you live, and if so, what is the best part about diving there?
Aside from the water temperature and having to be completely covered in neoprene and still be cold, I love diving in New England. We have it all - eel grass, sandy bottoms, rubble, boulders, reefs, and wrecks. We have squid, shrimp, nudibranchs, and crazy looking fish such as the Sea Raven and Wolf Eel. Our fish may not be as colorful as tropical fish, but we can see some in late summer when they begin to wander into our water. Best of all though, is that local diving is a great day at the beach with friends, and is something we can do weekend after weekend for months at a time rather than once a year for a week.
Where is your favorite place to dive and why?
My favorite place to dive is Cozumel. I've done about 50 dives there in the past 18 months, and fall in love with the diving all over again every time I do my first dive. The reefs are super healthy, there is an abundance of fish and marine life, the water truly is as blue as it appears in photos, drift diving rocks once you get the hang of it, and I've found a dive operator that is perfect for me.
What is your favorite non-fish sighting?
Do you have any surveying, fishwatching, or identification tips for REEF members?
Never stop learning. Take every fish ID course, Fishinar, or whatever training opportunity possible to polish your skills and learn new fish. When you encounter something new underwater, ask your dive buddies what it was. Agree ahead of time on a signal that means "remember this fish and tell me what it is when we surface". Learn the signals so when someone sees something cool and signals it, you know exactly what to look for when you get to that spot.
On Saturday, July 14th, seventy members of the REEF Sustainers Club (annual donors of $1,000 or more), key partners and long-time REEF friends convened in Key Largo, Florida to celebrate fourteen years of REEF accomplishments over some diving and a sunset dinner. Paul Humann, Ned DeLoach and other Board, staff and Advisory Panel members were on hand to lead guests on some spectacular morning REEF survey dives while Amy Slate and her stand-up staff at the Amoray Dive Resort generously hosted the lodging and dinner party. “The event was just beautiful.” Said long-time REEF surveyor Elaine Morden, of Homestead, Florida. “It was great to connect with old REEF friends and see some new faces.”
The bi-annual Sustainers Event is a chance for REEF to bring together important members of the REEF family to thank them for their contributions and share successes of the organization over the years. This year, REEF was proud to recognize Linda Schillinger for achieving one of the highest REEF honors: admission into the Golden Hamlet club for those who have conducted 1,000 or more REEF surveys. We were also proud to recognize Key Largo resident and REEF office volunteer Audrey Smith for nearly ten years of regular service to the organization by quality-checking survey scanforms before they are uploaded to the REEF database. REEF was itself bestowed with an honor by Sanctuary Friends of the Florida Keys Director Glenn Patton: SFFFK generously gave a gift of support for the Great Annual Fish Count this year to help underwrite the costs of public outreach and education events.
By virtue of a Paul presentation and applause vote, the group answered the perennial question “What is the most beautiful fish in the Caribbean?” Out of thirty possibilities ranging from the spotfin hogfish to the fairy basslet, the spotted eagle ray won a narrow victory over close rivals the queen angelfish and queen triggerfish. Ned enthralled the group with fish behavior anecdotes from as far afield as Indonesia and gave updates on valuable REEF programs ranging from the Grouper Moon Project to the Exotics Species Sightings Project.
All agreed that the only thing hotter than the event itself was the Florida sun in July. With the heat index topping 100 degrees, no one needed a better excuse to indulge in a new REEF-inspired cocktail, the Indigo Hamlet, a unique and diversified alcoholic concoction for our wonderful sustainers to imbibe in while enjoying the sunset! Many thanks to all who made this a Sustainers Weekend to remember. See you at the next one . . .
For information about joining the Sustainers Club, please contact Leda Cunningham: Leda@reef.org or (305) 852-0030.
REEF once again participated in the Perigee Environmental's yearly evaluation of the coral ecosystems along the eastern coast of Andros, Bahamas in cooperation with the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC). Using the newest Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) surveying protocol, scientists gathered coral, benthic and fish data during the first 2 weeks of October. The data gathered will complement the existing 30 year data that demonstrates AUTEC's continuing efforts to preserve coral reefs around their facilities and military training ranges. Judy Lang, coral ecology expert, and Chris Moses, University of Southern Florida graduate student, were in charge of gathering the coral data. Brooke Gintert was conducting her Ph.D. work for the University of Miami and assisting with the benthic data collection. One of the REEF founders, Ken Marks and REEF intern Catherine Whitaker were responsible for the fish counting.
AUTEC has been actively monitoring and protecting the coral reef near shore environment since the establishment of the facilities in the 1960s. For the last six years, AUTEC has used the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment surveying protocol, which is a method that compares the complex relationship among corals, fish and algae and provides a quantitative scale on the health of a reef's ecosystem by comparing the survey results in terms of a regional comparison. In this case, it is also being used to track temporal changes to 35 reef sites around central Andros. Point-count data and general coral data were collected to estimate coral condition and algal cover. Fish variety, abundance, and size was estimated by transects and the rover diver method.
For more information concerning this trip or AGRRA please contact Patricia Kramer of Perigee Environmental (email@example.com).
Top ten things I learned from my AGRRA trip:
10. Exhaustion is a state of mind and is not cured by more work, less sleep and diving. Food (especially Pringles and chocolate) helps though.
9. Golf carts should be used more often in the US.
8. Dinner waits for no man, so floor the pedal on that golf cart and RUN!
7. The floating pier at site 1 is cursed and sets off the rain whenever any member of the AGRRA trip steps on it to load or unload anything from the boat.
6. Snakes do not belong on planes, I mean, in camera cases but seem to like it there.
5. Crashing mountainous waves and cement-like waters are not conducive to good science or a pleasant dive.
4. Post-trip pep talks should always include sweets and beverages.
3. Rick makes the barren rock that is Site 4 look and feel like Club Med. Thanks Rick.
2. Things to do on your only day off (because of 30 knot winds and 6ft waves) include but are not limited to swimming against a raging outgoing tide at a blue hole, resting by snorkeling for 2 hours in an inland blue hole, spearing lionfish, dissecting said lionfish and having a horseshoe tournament.
1. Making new friends, doing science and experiencing a sense of accomplishment for conservation efforts... priceless.
My warmest wishes go out to our AUTEC liaisons, Tom Szlyk and Marc Ciminello for their invaluable assistance. I would also like to thank everyone who put in extra effort so that I could participate in this fantastic trip as well as anyone who taught me anything while I was on it. Thank you very much.
REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, joined a dozen other scientists in presenting the findings of monitoring the marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Channel Islands, California, earlier this month during a special session of the California Islands Symposium. The presentation highlighted the effect of reserves on common nearshore rocky reef fishes based on 10 years of REEF survey data. During this time, REEF volunteer divers have collected 1,595 visual fish surveys from 113 sites throughout the Channel Islands before and after state marine reserves were established in 2002. Using analysis methods developed to analyze volunteer bird watching data, collaborators Dr. Brice Semmens (NOAA NMFS) and Dr. Steve Katz (Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary) developed a model to detect trends in fish densities. The analysis included 25 species of common rocky reef fishes, including targeted and non-targeted species. Rather than focusing on changes in the density of individual species, the analysis evaluated changes in multiple species to characterize responses of marine communities to protection from fishing in reserves. The analysis suggests that reserves are positively influencing fish population trajectories in both targeted and non-targeted species. On average, fish populations had ~20% higher growth rates inside reserves as compared to outside, although there was a high degree of variability across species. Dr. Pattengill-Semmens notes that this study is one of the first applications of Pacific region REEF data for use by marine resource agency officials to evaluate the effects of management actions. The results will ultimately be published and will join the many existing published studies of the utility of Tropical Western Atlantic REEF data. The cumulative impact of the data and results from the entire suite of monitoring programs being conducted around the Channel Islands will "help to inform future management of the region, aid in the implementation of the California Marine Life Protection Act in southern California, and contribute to our understanding of MPAs worldwide," said John Ugoretz, manager of the Marine Habitat Conservation Program for the California Department of Fish and Game. To find out more about REEF monitoring activities in the Channel Islands, visit the Channel Islands project webpage.
REEF staff and volunteers are attending several events in the Northwest this winter and spring to spread the word about the Volunteer Survey Project. These include scientific conferences and dive shows. REEF volunteer and instructor, Janna Nichols, represented REEF at the Puget Sound Georgia Basin (PSGB) Ecosystem Conference last month in Seattle, Washington. Over 1,000 scientists, decision-makers and others attended the PSGB and the overall conference theme was to share knowledge and commit to action to protect the region's marine environment. Janna presented posters on two of REEF's important programs in the Pacific Northwest, tracking the presence and spread of invasive tunicates and the long-term monitoring of sub-tidal fish and invertebrates in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
If you weren't able to attend the PSGB Conference, REEF is participating in two upcoming events in Washington. The first is a workshop organized by the Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) and others, "Exploring the Spectrum of Citizen Science". The workshop is being held April 10-11 at Fort Wordon State Park and will bring together many citizen science practitioners to discuss what make successful programs. Later that month, come visit the REEF booth at the Northwest Dive and Travel Expo in Tacoma, April 25 & 26th. REEF volunteers and Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, will be at the booth to spread the word about REEF. We'll have survey materials and guide books on hand and will be presenting a seminar, "REEF: Diving That Counts" on Saturday afternoon at 2pm. See you there!
The REEF Pacific Region, which includes California through British Columbia, continues to be one of our most active areas. This is thanks to funding support from several West Coast foundations as well as partnerships with some great organizations. REEF survey and identification training opportunities abound, long-term monitoring projects in several National Marine Sanctuaries continue, the number of REEF Expert surveyors is increasing, and REEF data and projects are being presented at conferences and used by scientists and agencies. REEF greatly appreciates the continued support of several West Coast funders, including The Russell Family Foundation and the Sustainable Path Foundation, as well as our dedicated volunteers for making this continued success possible. If you are in the Pacific Northwest, check out the REEF PNW Critter Watchers webpage, which connects area REEF surveyors for training and surveying opportunities.
There's still space in some of the fish and invertebrate identification and REEF survey training classes being held next month in Southern California. Classes will be held June 24, 25 and 26 in Dana Point and Long Beach. To find out more, see this article in last month's REEF-in-Brief. Classes are informative, fun and free, but registration is required. To register go to: http://www.pnwscuba.com/critterwatchers/calclasses.htm.
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 biologist from Fisheries and Oceans Canada is evaluating fish and invertebrate populations in Race Rocks outside of Victoria BC, in preparation for the establishment of an Marine Protected Area.
- A researcher at the University of Texas is conducting a large-scale study of evolutionary ecology in Caribbean reef fishes using REEF data and other publically available sources of morphological and phylogenetic data.
- A scientist from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is conducting an analysis on goliath grouper populations for a NOAA Fisheries stock assessment.
- A researcher from University of East Anglia is using the entire REEF Caribbean dataset to conduct a large-scale analysis of species diversity.
REEF is proud to partner with over 130 dive shops, dive clubs, individuals, and other organizations as REEF Field Stations
This month we feature Sea Saba, a top-notch dive operator located on a small Caribbean island devoid of beaches, but abundant in spectacular dive sites! The island of Saba is known for its unspoiled natural beauty and lack of development- the island has fewer than 2,000 residents. Dive shop owners, Lynn and John, have made scuba diving, travel, and photography their life for well over 2 decades. Some time ago, while exploring a rainforest in Peru with an exceptionally knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide, Lynn realized that there aren’t enough scuba guides in the industry who are highly knowledgeable about the marine life and habitats they work in. To quote her, “Certainly professional and safety standards are important but sadly, far too many dive guides are actually poor guides.”
Working with the REEF program is one great tool utilized by Sea Saba to continue to improve the knowledge base of their dive instructors. Dive staff members are frequently reminded that their core function is to be great guides, and newly hired dive staff are required to become REEF Level 3 surveyors within 60 days! “It’s a win/win/win. We’re making a concerted effort to ensure a great dive experience is had by all our visitors but also by our staff. If we can engage each guide to be more aware and knowledgeable and share this information with our diving guests, dive guides avoid burnout. The enthusiasm is contagious.” says Lynn.
Sea Saba understands and shares REEF’s mission to educate, enlist, and engage divers in marine conservation efforts. In Lynn’s words, “Fish identification skills are a stepping stone in understanding our underwater environment. By sharing knowledge, we not only create better surface interval conversations, we can hope each diver is also an advocate to use what power he/she has to protect this realm: the coral, the fish, the reef, the ocean…our planet.”
Sea Saba hosted the first REEF Field Survey of the year in March and they made sure our trip season got off to a great start - participants confirmed over 150 species sightings during the week, including rare finds such as yellowcheek basslets, punk blennies, and a hammerhead shark! Our team of ten was well taken care of by the excellent divemasters and staff of Sea Saba, many of whom are active surveyors throughout the Saba Marine Park surrounding this petite island. The natural beauty of Saba was the perfect setting for our diving (and hiking) adventure.