Belize Lionfish Project - Last few remaining spots

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Lionfish are rapidly invading Belize and other Central American countries. Help do something about the problem on a special benefit trip aboard the Sun Dancer. Photo by Rich Carey.

Needed -- a few more volunteers for this critical marine conservation project in Belize! Peter Hughes and REEF’s Lad Akins will lead this great project aboard the livaboard dive vessel Sun Dancer II, June 13-20. I am sure that most of you have been following the news about the lionfish invasion and the recent updates on fish beginning to show up in Belize. We are really concerned about this. The Central American coast is going to be the most likely pathway for introduction of the fish into the Gulf of Mexico and the extremely valuable fish and shrimp industry there.

What can we do? One of the first things that can be done is early detection and rapid response to remove these fish as they show up. To that end Peter Hughes Diving has worked with REEF to organize the first lionfish assessment and removal project in Belize (or anywhere in Central America for that matter!). This is going to be a great first effort on detecting fish, removing what we see and training local staff on how to collect and handle the fish so they can remove them year-round.

What do we need? We need more of you! We need your interest, expertise and involvement to make this project a success. We know that times are tight and there is concern over travel to some areas, but this project is not to be missed. We will be offshore on the Sun Dancer II, one of the most highly regarded liveaboards in the region. First class service, first class diving and a very important mission!

We hope you can make this project! For more information and to sign up, call Peter Hughes Diving at 1-800 9 DANCER (800-932-6237). You can also contact REEF Director of Special Projects, Lad Akins, with any of your lionfish questions and to find out more about this trip (lad@reef.org, 305-852-0030).

We look forward to seeing you there!

Sevengill Shark Sightings on the Rise in Southern California

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The majestic broadnose sevengill shark. Photo by Scott McGee - underpressurephoto.com

Active REEF surveyor, Mike Bear, and other San Diego area divers started noticing something unexpected earlier this year -- increasing numbers of encounters with the Bluntnose Sevengill Shark, Notorynchus cepedianus, also known as the Broadnose Sevengill shark. Knowing first hand the impact that divers and snorkelers can have as citizen scientists, Mike set up a website - http://sevengillsharksightings.org -- to serve as a central repository for photographic, videographic and written data on these magnificent creatures. Submissions on the site will allow REEF surveyors who are lucky enough to encounter this prehistoric species to provide additional information and images beyond the sighting and abundance information recorded as part of their REEF survey. It will also enable divers who were not doing a REEF survey to report their encounter. One of the most interesting parts of the website will be the development of an informal photographic database of Sevengill sightings that will facilitate the comparison of photographs and the potential identification of individual sharks using the unique pattern of dark "freckles" on the backs of each shark, similar to the patterns seen on whale sharks. To date, six REEF surveys in San Diego have reported a Sevengill (click here to see the sightings report).

REEF Data Used To Evaluate Evolution in Marine Species

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The golden hamlet is one of the more rare species, infrequently found in just a few locations. Photo by Ned DeLoach.
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The distribution of yellowtail hamlet, as documented by REEF surveyors and analyzed by Ben Holt et al. This work was published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography 2010.

As all of you Caribbean fiswatchers know, hamlets are a group of colourful coral reef fish found throughout the Caribbean. Ten species of hamlet have been discovered and each can be easily recognized by its own distinct colour pattern. In some areas, as many as seven varieties can be found on a single reef. However, most hamlet species are only found at specific locations. The blue hamlet, for example, is found only in the Florida region. How these very different looking, yet very closely related species came to be has been a a subject of debate among scientists. Data collected by divers and snorkelers as part of the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project were recently used in a large analysis to better understand the patterns of evolution in these and other marine fishes. Dr. Ben Holt from University of East Anglia (UK) and his colleagues Simon Fraser University in Canada recently published their findings in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Biogeography

It had previously been believed that these different species of hamlets evolved because of geographical separation. For example, it was thought that falling sea levels in the past could have divided the original species. Then, when levels increased, the differently evolved species were thrown back together. The new study found little evidence for this theory and instead suggests that hamlet color varieties could have evolved regardless of any physical separation. Using thousands of underwater surveys made by REEF volunteers, the researchers analysed distributions of the ten different hamlet species. They found that even widespread hamlet species are not found everywhere, and identified high density hotspots for each species. Because different species hotspots overlap and many species have more than one hotspot, the results do not support the theory that hamlets originated independently when they were geographically separated in the past. The research also showed how ecological factors, such as competition for food or habitat, may influence how different hamlet species co-exist. 

"Our findings suggest that ecology may better explain the evolution of hamlets than geographical separation," said lead author Dr Ben Holt of UEA's School of Biological Sciences. "Many scientists believe hamlets are beginning to evolve into a new species and this latest discovery will shed light on this process." The full citation of the paper is Holt, B., I Cote, and B Emerson (2010). Signatures of speciation? Distribution and diversity of Hypoplectrus (Teleostei: Serranidae) colour morphotypes. Global Ecology and Biogeography (published online 23 April 2010).

To see this and other scientific papers that have been published using REEF data, check out the Publications page on the REEF.org website here.

Neon Goby Split Into Two Species

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Neon Goby (Elacatinus oceanops) is found in South Florida and the Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Paul Humann.
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Caribbean Neon Goby (Elactinus lobeli), is known from Belize and Honduras. Photo by Paul Humann.

Attention Tropical Western Atlantic fishwatchers -- the Neon Goby has been split into two species. The original Neon Goby, Elactinus oceanops, retains the common name and is geographically known only from So. Florida and Flower Gardens and Alacran reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. This goby can be distinguished by the bright neon blue stripe from snout to tail with a sharp blue-against-black edge.

The Caribbean Neon Goby (new common name), Elactinus lobeli, is known only from the Bay of Honduras, from Xcalak in Yucatan through Belize to the Bay Islands of Honduras, including offshore reefs. It can be distinguished by the pale blue or grey borders along the bright blue neon stripe running from snout to tail. Genetic analyses indicate that the two species have been separated for about 800,000 years.

Putting It to Work: Who’s Using REEF Data, March 2011

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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:

- An educator and researcher from the University of Connecticut is using data as part of a field science class. His students will use the data to evaluate fish populations in advance of their field coursework.

- A postdoc from the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce is using data from Stetson Bank in the Gulf of Mexico (part of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary) to evaluate changes in the bank's fish populations.

Putting It To Work: REEF Advanced Assessment Team Member Co-Authors Publication on Barracuda

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A large school of young Barracuda. Photo by Peter Auster.

REEF Advanced Assessment Team Member, Dave Grenda, recently co-authored a paper documenting behavioral observations of young Great Barracuda occurring on live bottom sub-tropical reefs primarily at Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Georgia. For the past three years Dave assisted University of Connecticut researcher, Dr. Peter Auster, in studying behavioral interactions of piscivores and their prey. During REEF surveys on these cruises, Dave and the other researchers documented young-of-year (YOY) Great Barracuda (those individuals that had very recently settled to the reef, and were between 2-3 inches in length) hunting YOY Tomtate and Silverside that were taking refuge under ledges. Groups of YOY Barracuda would attack, capture, and consume the prey. Prey that escaped the Barracuda retreated to reef edges and were often consumed by bottom-dwelling adult piscivores such as Black Sea Bass, Bank Sea Bass, and Scamp Grouper. These findings indicate that given the strong functional role the young Barracuda have on driving species interactions, greater attention should be given to the roles played by the wider diversity of YOY piscivores recruiting to reef communities. The paper was recently published in the scientific journal Southeastern Naturalist. You can find a link to this and all published papers that have included REEF data on our Publications page. 

Rogest Designs New REEF Flag T-Shirt

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A great way to wear REEF! Famoust marine life artist, Rogest, took his famous dotty style to the REEF logo. The dotty REEF Flag is on the front and "Diving that Counts" is proudly displayed on the back. Available in two colors - Charcoal Gray and Indigo Blue. Head over to the REEF Store today and get yours. We have also added several new Pacific marine life ID books and new waterproof ID cards. Go check them out! www.REEF.org/store

REEF Announces New Board Members

REEF Board of Trustees (l-r): Alex Alexiou, Paul Humann, Andy Dehart, Ned DeLoach, Anna DeLoach, Bob Ramin, Jim Dalle Pazze, and Peter Hughes.

For more than 20 years, REEF has been conserving marine ecosystems through education, service, and research. It’s an exciting time for REEF as we work hard to extend the reach of our innovative marine conservation programs. One way REEF is doing this is by inviting diverse leaders to the Board of Trustees to help guide the foundation, including these three new members:

Peter A. Hughes is the Founder of the DivEncounters Alliance, a group of independent live-aboard dive operators. Peter is one of the diving world’s foremost live-aboard operators, having spent more than forty years in the dive industry and over the past 25 years, building his former live-aboard company, Peter Hughes Diving, Inc.

Alexander Alexiou, is a successful Broker for Island Real Estate based in Harbour Island, Bahamas. He has traveled extensively and brings unique insight into the culture and ecology of islands throughout the tropical western Atlantic.

Robert Ramin, formerly the Executive Director of the National Aquarium in Washington, DC, is now the Chief Executive Officer of the Washington Animal Rescue League. He has extensive fundraising and membership development experience and has been a leader at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Management Schools for the past 16 years.

Peter, Alex and Bob join REEF co-founders, Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach, Jim Dalle Pazze, Andy Dehart, Anna DeLoach, and Marty Snyderman on the REEF Board of Trustees. Welcome!

Please Help Us Reach Our Goal To Support REEF Interns

Five days remain in our fundraising campaign to raise $10,000 for our REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program, and we are only halfway there! Help us reach our goal by donating today. Please consider supporting these enthusiastic young professionals as they gain critical career skills and provide REEF with invaluable program support. Although less known, the REEF Marine Conservation Internship Program is one of our most successful endeavors. Our interns are involved in many aspects in the day-to-day running of REEF, and many have gone on to work in academia, at government agencies, or for other ocean conservation non-profits. Your donation will help sponsor an intern, covering living expenses, mentoring and training, and diving opportunities during their four-month experience. To those who have donated already, thank you for making such a tremendous impact on the future of REEF’s interns and aspiring marine conservationists.

REEF Staff Attend Regional Scientific Conference

Grouper Moon Project collaborators - Scott Heppell (OSU), Bradley Johnson (CIDOE), Christy Pattengill-Semmens (REEF), Phil Bush (CIDOE), Brice Semmens (Scripps), l-r.
Lad Akins, Adam Nardelli, and Stephanie Green at their research poster on demographics of lionfish derby participants.

REEF Staff Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens (Director of Science) and Lad Akins (Director of Special Projects), joined over 300 scientists, resource managers, and fishers at the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) meeting last week in Corpus Christi, Texas. All three of REEF's major programs were represented.

Christy presented a research poster on an analysis of patterns of rarity in fishes in the Caribbean basin using the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project database. Over 90,000 surveys from our citizen science program were used to explore where the rare things are, and why some places seem to have so many more of them than others.

Lad co-chaired a session on Invasive Lionfish, featuring 21 talks on the current state of lionfish research and control efforts in the Atlantic. During this session, REEF Affiliate Scientist, Dr. Stephanie Green, presented her findings on the efficacy of lionfish derbies. Her research shows that one-day derby events like the ones REEF coordinates in Florida and the Bahamas can result in a significant reduction of lionfish densities, up to 70%, over 180 square km, all the result of volunteer teams. Lad and Nova Southeastern University graduate student and upcoming REEF Intern, Adam Nardelli, also presented a research poster on the demographics of participants in the 2013 Key Largo Lionfish Derby.

And finally, REEF Grouper Moon Project collaborators, Dr. Brice Semmens (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) and Dr. Scott Heppell (Oregon State University) both presented talks during the fish spawning aggregation session, and we were also joined by collegues from the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (CIDOE). Brice presented findings from our research using Passive Acoustic Monitoring on a multi-species spawning aggregation on Little Cayman, and Scott presented a theory for why spawning aggregations have collapsed around the world and how our Grouper Moon research can be used to help inform future protection efforts.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub